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A WANDERING STAR 



A WANDERING STAR 



BY 



Lady FAIRLIE CUNINGHAME 

AUTHOR OF 
" THE SLAVE OF HIS WILL," ETC. 



IN THREE VOLUMES 



VOL. IIL 



ILontion 
WARD AND DOWNEY 

12, YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN 

1892 



LONDON : 
PRINTED BY WOODFALL AND KINDER, 

70 TO 76, LONG ACRE, W.C. 



fA3 

P lit w 
V. 3 



A WANDERING STAR. 



CHAPTER I. 

" To right and to left extended 
The uplands are blank and drear, 
And their neutral tints are blended 
With the dead leaves sombre and sear ; 
The cold grey mist from the still side 
Of the lake creeps sluggish and sure ; 
Bare and bleak is the hill-side, 
Barren and bleak the moor." 

" I FEEL a perfect brute leaving you all 
by yourself the whole day," says Miss 
Charley Mossop to her sister-in-law two or 
three mornings after their conversation on 
the subject of Vega's want of occupation, 
and Miss Mossop's discovery that what she 
wanted was some one younger as a com- 
panion than herself and Mr. Mossop. 
" Nothing but hunting would make me do 
VOL. in. B 



2 - A WANDERING STAR. 

It ; but you know everything else must go 
to the wall when that Is concerned. One 
can't afford to lose a day — -It would be posi- 
tively wrong. Well, take care of your pretty 
little self, Mrs. Albert ; don't sit all the 
morning over the fire, and, above all, don't 
forget my commissions when you drive into 
Grimthorpe In the afternoon. Remember, 
I pin my faith on you. I am no hand at 
shopping myself ; still there is the hunt ball 
coming on next week, and some fresh rags 
I must have ; so don't forget — blue tulle and 
scarlet velvet — as much as Mr. Lawrle 
chooses to give me to cover my ball-gown. 
He knows how much I need, and I ought 
to know too by this time, for I have gone 
to every hunt ball for the last ten years In 
exactly the same coloured frock. There's no 
choice when one hunts — the hunt colours 
are the only thing possible. I broke out 
into branches of gorse as trimming one year, 
but I was finely laughed at, so back I went to 
my old blue and red. I can trust you not to 
fail me, and It will give you an object for a 
drive, which is something. I am not sure 



A WANDERING STAR. 3 

that you haven't the best of it to-day, my 
dear. To sit with one's feet on the fender all 
the morning would be a vast deal more com- 
fortable than a fifteen-mile drive to the meet 
in this beastly drizzle." 

Miss Mossop Is once more warming her 
toes by the great hall-fire ; but this time neat 
Wellingtons encase her feet and legs, and a 
spur on the left heel looks like business. 
A huge fur-lined coat lies on the chair 
beside her, and her well-made, though some- 
what heavlly-bullt, figure looks compact and 
thoroughly workmanlike In the stoutest and 
strongest of huntlng-hablts. They have had 
an early breakfast, for the meet is a long way 
off, and Mr. and Miss Mossop are always 
punctual as clockwork, time themselves to a 
nicety, and take a pride In arriving on the 
scene of action at exactly the right moment. 

"Albert is a minute or two late, for a 
wonder," goes on his sister; ''but we will 
make it up, I suppose," and as her brother 
fusses into the hall she makes no remark, 
but slips Into her big roomy coat, draws on a 
pair of thick fur-lined gloves, and strides to 

B 2 



4 A WANDERING SIAR. 

the front door, at which the double dog-cart 
has been standing for the last five minutes. 

Servants are waiting about, flasks and 
sandwich-boxes are being put In. Miss 
Mossop takes possession of the high box 
seat ; a huge plaid is swathed round her 
knees. Her brother mounts heavily into 
the more lowly place at her side, and as they 
drive away they shout their adieux to the 
solitary little figure who watches their de- 
parture from the doorstep. The roans 
plunge, but Miss Mossop Is more than a 
match for them, and off they go. A fine 
rain is falling, the skies are *' dark and 
leaden," and the earth is " dusk and brown." 
A low rolling mist blots out the distant downs, 
and near at hand great heavy drops of water 
hang on everything. The atmosphere Is 
charged with moisture — it is depressing, 
miserable kind of weather to any one but an 
ardent fox-hunter, and even such an one 
must Indeed be keen not to feel just a 
trifle limp and uncurled at the beginning 
of a very long day. Miss Mossop, how- 
ever, has no such feelings. The roans 



A WANDERING STAR. 5 

are pulling like mad ; she has her hands 
full, and is far too good a whip to give a 
thought to anything but the business on hand. 

Mr. Mossop is also unaffected by the 
weather, for his soul abhors everything con- 
nected with hunting, and he feels neither 
more nor less depressed than usual. Were 
the sun shininof and the morninof a fine one 
his spirits would not be any the better, for 
nothing can raise them till the dangers and 
the discomforts of the chase are over, and he 
is safe on his road home. If anything, he 
prefers a nasty raw morning to a bright one ; 
he feels it gives him a better chance of get- 
ting back to The Towers early in the clay — of 
being out of the way when the best covert 
is being drawn, and of having a tolerable 
excuse for shirkinof in the weather. 

Why he should hunt at all, disliking It so 
heartily as he does, and why he should 
make his winters miserable by attempting 
to pursue the fox, are questions he could 
hardly answer satisfactorily. 

He has a vague idea that if he does not 
do so his social position will be endangered, 



6 A WANDERING STAR. 

and that, whatever others may do, he, who 
is only allowed into the charmed circle of 
county society, as it were, on sufferance, is 
bound to identify himself with it in its amuse- 
ments as much as possible. 

After all, there are some compensations- 
hunt dinners, hunt meetings, even hunt balls, 
fill him with satisfaction, and he would be 
ashamed to say how much he enjoys dining 
in his red coat in the hunting season. 

It is only the terrible days that he spends 
in the saddle which he finds so trying, and 
his one comfort is that, considering the 
money he spends on hunting, the number of 
horses he keeps, and the trouble that it 
gives him, it is wonderful how few hunting 
days he has after all, and these a visit to 
town *'on business," a convenient cold, or a 
well-timed attack of rheumatism can always 
curtail still further. 

All the sporting instincts of the Mossop 
family seem possessed by Miss Charley, 
whose love of hunting is genuine and sincere, 
who is ready to take the rough with the 
smooth, the bitter with the sweet, whose 



A WANDERING STAR. 7 

pluck is undeniable, and who, without taking 
a very brilliant place when hounds are 
running, pounds along, jumps everything 
that has to be jumped, and is pronounced 
a real good fellow by the whole of the 
Blankshire field. She understands her 
brother, and makes things easier for him 
by many a plausible excuse and well-timed 
explanation ; he, on his side, is secretly 
grateful to her, and is only too glad to repay 
her kindness by allowing her to ride some of 
the horses of which he is mortally afraid, 
feeling amply rewarded when he hears her 
loudly extol his liberality in the matter of 
mounts to the Gornaway's, or any of those 
whose good opinion he covets. 

The roans pull ; the high dog-cart bowls 
swiftly along ; the meet will be reached all too 
soon for Mr. Mossop, and in the meantime 
Vega, with that sensation of freedom which it 
seems to her very like ingratitude always to 
feel in the absence of her pompous, fussy lord 
and master, spends a long idle morning 
between the conservatory and the inglenook. 

It is not very wholesome either for mind 



8 A WANEERING STAR. 

or body to be so idle, and the Idleness which 
resolves itself into living in imagination a 
few golden hours over and over agalnjs sadly 
enervating. 

She sits by the fire and spins romances ; 
she breathes the warm hyacinth-scented 
atmosphere of the conservatory, and as 
she sits under her favourite palm she is 
once more dancing at the domino ball at 
Conholt, and listening to Brian Beresford as 
he whispers words of love in her ears at the 
feet of the marble statue in Lady Julia's rose- 
garden. 

In the afternoon she drives into Grim- 
thorpe, as she has promised, but the same 
story runs In her brain. 

A flat, uninteresting road, with high hedges 
on either side, a leaden sky, a passing cart, 
or a stray pedestrian, these have no chance 
of distracting her attention or of turning her 
thoughts from that which it Is worse than 
useless and dangerous and a mistake for her 
to think about at all. 

Brian — Brian — always Brian ! Can she 
not save herself by remembering that he 



A WANDERING STAR. 9 

played her false ; that he laughed at her love, 
and that he held her up to ridicule to the 
woman who had always tried to hunt her down ? 

Alas ! she knows It all ! She believes, and 
yet she cannot believe, that he failed her ; but 
the very uncertainty and doubt keeps her 
mind In a kind of feverish excitement. 

We are all of us wise when years have 
sobered us — when the fires of love burn low — 
when passion is dead, and our day is done. 

It Is harder at eighteen ; when the young 
blood runs hotly in the veins, when head and 
heart are both aglow with the fervour of 
desire, and when life Itself is love. 

The carriage dashes up the High Street 
of Grimthorpe. Does it come on Vega as a 
surprise, or Is It only like the continuation of 
her day-dream that Brian Beresford should 
be there also ? 

She has not set eyes on him for more than 
a year. He went, Heaven knows whither, 
almost immediately after Lady Julia Damer's 
fancy ball. He comes of a roving race ; he is 
never so happy as when he is leading a life 
of sport and adventure, and he goes far 



lO A WANDERING STAR, 

afield to find them. He has come from the 
uttermost ends of the earth now — this Is the 
first day he has been back in these parts at 
all, and it is Vega's fate to meet him ! He is 
some distance off, but there is no mistaking 
that tall, slim, active figure ; besides, she 
could not be mistaken ! 

He does not see her, but her head is swim- 
ming as the victoria pulls up in front of the 
great Mr. Lawrie's open door and plate-glass 
windows, full of ribbons, and fiowers, and 
finery, and it seems as much as she can do to 
cross the pavement steadily. 

Mr. Lawrie welcomes her in his own 
especial manner — that manner which he 
reserves exclusively for the benefit of those 
customers who drive into Grimthorpe in their 
own carriages. He has another manner for 
the townspeople — blank, familiar, even jocu- 
lar — a manner which answers its purpose 
excellently, and which has made his business 
the prosperous concern it is. To the county 
families, Mr. Lawrie is another person 
altogether ; high hat in hand, he bows low 
on his own doorstep, and escorts them with 



A WANDERING STAR. I I 

dignity through the front shop to a room 
behind, a kind of holy of hoHes, where the 
wants of these favoured beings are ministered 
to by himself and the forewoman — a lady of 
a certain age, whose knowledge seems un- 
bounded, her good taste indisputable, and her 
insinuating manners irresistible. But Vega 
hears the great mans polite remarks as 
though she heard them not ; his bland dignity 
is entirely thrown away on her, as Is the In- 
terest taken In her requirements by his oblig- 
ing assistant. They show her now this 
novelty, now that ; they cover the counter 
with delicately-hued silks and satins, which 
they pile up In graceful folds to catch all the 
light there is ; they throw themselves heart 
and soul Into Mrs. Mossop's requirements, 
and discuss blue tulle and scarlet velvet till It 
seems as If there was nothing more that could 
possibly be said on the subject. Mr. Lawrle 
knows the exact shade of scarlet and azure that 
go best with the coats worn by the gentlemen 
of the Gornaway Hunt ; the forewoman does 
not pretend to such masculine knowledge, but 
her taste Is Invaluable in deciding the num- 



12 A WANDERING STAR. 

ber of loops of red velvet needed to trim a 
ball gown, and the general arrangement of 
the drapery. 

If all their customers gave them as little 
trouble as " young Mrs. Mossop " Mr. 
Lawrle and his assistant think they would 
have an easy time of It. She gives In to 
them on every point, accepts their sugges- 
tions as If they were Infallible, and sits, pas- 
sive and Inert, while thev look after her 
Interests and their own at the same time. 

Her mind seems to hold but one Idea — 
will she see Beresford as she leaves the shop 
— or, rather, will he see her ? And suppos- 
ing he speaks to her, wull she be able to 
command her countenance and hide all 
traces of feeling or agitation ? She longs — 
oh, how madly she longs ! — to look him In 
the face, to hold his hand, to hear his 
voice again ! Still, now, when In a few 
minutes she may be doing all three, she 
almost shrinks from It. She Is not sure of 
herself, and her heart beats madly at the 
very Idea. Why, her voice does not seem 
quite her own as she answers some of Mr. 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 3 

Lawrle's polite questions, and her hand 
shakes when Miss Minniken begs her to 
take two shades of scarlet velvet to the 
window and. judge for herself the most suit- 
able shade for Miss Mossop's ball-gown. 

She chooses at random, but Miss Minni- 
ken applauds her selection, and the parcel Is 
a good-sized one that a smiling shop-boy 
carries out finally to the victoria. 

*' As sweet a little lady as ever comes 
inside these doors," is Miss Minnlken's ver- 
dict after Mrs. Mossop's departure. " I only 
wish we had more of that sort on our books. 
That's what I call a real lady, and one as 
behaves according. No setting up of ridi- 
culous ideas about /ler. No trying to get 
hold of something that no one has ever seen 
or heard of, or tossing over everything In 
the shop, and then saying it's not the colour, 
or the shape, or the size that is wanted. 
Why, a good many of our customers don't 
know their own minds no more than the 
babe unborn. I've seen some of them look 
quite dazed and silly like while they're try- 
ing to make out what it is they want, and 



14 A WANDERING STAR. 

no sooner have I got them to choose some- 
thing than they turn right round and say 
that's the very thing they don't Hke, and 
then it's all to begin over again. Oh ! some 
of the customers are the mischief, that's what 
they are ! Not like this pretty little lady 
from The Towers, who looks so sweet, and 
who has the sense to see that we know- 
better than she does, as it stands to reason 
we must. Who makes the best thing of it, 
I should like to know, in the end — the ladies 
who nearly go mad over their shopping, or 
the ladies, like her, who take it easy ? " 

"Mrs. Mossop zs a pretty little lady, as 
you say, Miss Minniken," returns Mr. 
Lawrie to this tirade, as he re-enters the 
shop with a satisfied air. " But she's not 
up to the countess yet ! The countess is 
the lady for my money. It's a perfect pic- 
ture to see her come into the shop with her 
great deerhound at her heels. There's such 
a dash about her ladyship, she looks so bold 
and frank, and yet so pleasant-spoken and 
lively. And so full of her jokes, too ! 
'It's too bad of you, Mr. Lawrie,' she says 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 5 

to me no later than yesterday, ' you've 
played me false at last. What about that 
pink velvet you promised me so faithfully? ' 
' I beg your ladyship's pardon,' says I, 'the 
pink velvet was sent out to the Castle half 
an hour ago. I telegraphed to Genoa for 
it, and I am proud to say your ladyship will 
not be disappointed.' And then the countess 
thumps with her little fist on the counter. 
' Well done ! It's more than I expected, Mr. 
Lawrle, and I a7n obliged.' It was pretty 
to see her ; but then I like them with spirit, 
and the countess has more spirit in her little 
finger than this sweet little lady from The 
Towers has in her whole body." 

*' I'm none so sure of that," answers Miss 
Minniken, in a mysterious manner. "It's the 
quiet ones that are the most deadly in the 
long run," and then the conversation becomes 
purely personal, and Miss Minniken and 
Mr. Lawrle indulge in the mild flirtation 
strictly limited to ten minutes, which takes 
place every evening across the silk counter 
before the shop Is lit up ! 

Mrs. Mossop, In the meantime, has left 



1 6 A WANDERING STAR. 

the shop with a beating heart, turning her 
head neither to the right nor left, as is the 
way of those who hope yet fear to look. It 
would seem as if the journey across the 
pavement to the carriage is too much for 
her ; for her knees shake, and she totters as 
she walks. Is she sorry or joyful that Brian 
Beresford is so near her, and that the next 
moment may bring him to her side ? She 
cannot tell, and she need not, for chance, 
blind chance, takes the matter, as usual, into 
her own hands. A door opens, the door of 
the next house to Mr. Lawrie's fashionable 
emporium, and before the soft furs of the 
victoria have been carefully arranged round 
Mrs. Mossop's pretty feet and knees Beres- 
ford is standing beside her. There is a 
passing hesitation on his part ; his manner 
seems constrained and embarrassed just for 
a minute ; but he is a man of the world, and 
he does not wear his heart on his sleeve. 
It is quite possible for everything to go on 
wheels — in a nice, simple, utterly common- 
place manner. The man who has returned 
from the Rocky Mountains, or their equiva- 



A WANDERING STAR. I 7 

lent, Is ready to talk In a banal sort of way 
to the woman with whom — let us say — he 
had had a pronounced flirtation before he 
went away, and who has made an excellent 
and wealthy marriage In his absence. 

Everything Is ready to go on wheels, as 

beforesald, but for one trifling circumstance, 

and that is, that he gives one swift glance at 

the lady's face, and that look upsets all his 

.calculations. 

All the colour seems suddenly to have left 
her sweet cheeks, and the eyes that meet his 
for a second, only for one second, look at 
him sadly and wistfully. 

Surely that is not the face of a prosperous 
woman, of a girl who had been, to say the 
least of it, a trifle mercenary, and who, aided 
and abetted by Lady Julia, had determined 
to make a rich marriage, and had succeeded 
only too thoroughly ; a girl who, he had been 
told, had laughed at the Idea of a love match, 
and who looked on marriage altogether as a 
game at which the highest bidder must win. 
This Is a face that, now that he sees it again, 
seems to him incapable of any low or sordid 

VOL. III. C 



1 8 A WANDERING STAR. 

sentiment ; a face from which, beautiful as it 
is, he feels in honour bound to turn away his 
eyes, for he seems to surprise her secret as 
he looks. Yes ! He cannot be mistaken ! 
Vega's present agitation can only be explained 
in one way, and a duller man than Brian 
Beresford must have come to the same con- 
clusion. 

It is written in her innocent face, in the 
emotion she tries in vain to hide, in the. 
broken voice in which she answers his greet- 
ing, in the trembling hand that she holds out 
to him. 

They do not speak for a minute ; silence 
reigns ; that fatal silence that often means so 
much more than words, and his greeting, 
when it at last comes, does not seem over 
well-chosen, " It is so long since we met." 
Yes ; long since he told her that he loved 
her, and since he gave her a Judas-like kiss 
in the rose-garden, and then betrayed her to 
her enemies. 

" Yes, yes, Brian," she answers nervously ; 
it is folly to call him Brian, and yet how can 
she greet him formally as Mr. Beresford ? 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 9 

" You have been away a long time," she goes 
on with an effort. 

" And have only got home a few days," 
he goes on, talking quickly and constrainedly. 
" I am due at Conholt to-night for a short 
visit. Is there any chance of your being 
over there ? " 

'* I don't think so," she answers. " We — we 
— are very little at Conholt now ; indeed, we 
are very seldom away from The Towers at 
all." 

" Then how are you to be seen ? but, in- 
deed, it has always been desperately hard to 
see you," he says, with a smile which makes 
him for a moment look very like the Brian 
of the Gitana days again ; he would dearly 
like to propose to come over and see her, 
but something keeps him back. *' Are you 
too great a recluse to go to the Hunt Ball ? 
I believe they are going to keep me at Con- 
holt till that festivity is over. Is there any 
chance of seeing you there ? " 

" Yes ; we are going to the ball," says Mrs. 
Mossop, and her foolish heart bounds with 
joy at the bare idea of meeting him again, and 

c 2 



20 A WANDERING STAR. 

then the horses plunge a little, Impatient after 

the long, cold wait ; the coachman gives one 

glance round, as much as to tell his young 

mistress that it is time to be getting home, 

and the footman, discreetly standing out of 

earshot, looks a picture of chilliness and 

resignation. " We must be getting home 

now," says the girl hurriedly, and then they 

clasp each other's hands ; their eyes meet, 

and that glance seems half to Intoxicate 

Vega, and make her forget for the moment 

at least that she once tried Brian Beresford 

in the balances and found him wanting. 
7^ ^ ^ ^ 7^ 

** Well ! Mrs. Albert, here we are back at 
last," Is Miss Charley's greeting. In a loud, 
jovial, satisfied voice, as she and Mr. Mossop 
come home hours after Vega has returned 
from Grimthorpe, to find her In her favourite 
niche by the great hall fire ; '' we have had 
a right good day ; but I am afraid that you, 
you poor little thing, have had a slowlsh time 
of it. No ? Then all I can say is, your 
mind must be a kingdom to you, and cer- 
tainly you are not looking bored, Indeed 



A WANDERING STAR. 21 

you're looking twice as brig-ht and lively as 
when we left you this morning. What has 
come over you ? Oh ! I know ! You've 
followed my prescription, and been in the open 
air more than usual. The drive to Grim- 
thorpe has done you good, and woke you up." 
" That must be it," answers Vega, with a 
guilty conscience, for she knows it is her 
meeting with Brian, and not the chill Novem- 
ber breezes, that has made her eyes shine, 
and that has put life and youth in them to- 
night, instead of their usual quiet melancholy. 
She knows that it is not the drive to and 
from Grimthorpe that has worked the change, 
but the touch of Brian's hand, and the antici- 
pation of happiness in store for her when she 
meets him at the ball. " I have not failed 
you, Charley, at any rate," she goes on hastily. 
" There is enough blue tulle and red velvet in 
that parcel for half a dozen dresses, I should 
have thought, though Mr. LawTie assured me 
it was Miss Mossop's usual quantity, and that 
he had heard that Miss Mossop liked her 
dresses very full. But I am very glad to 
hear you have had a real good day." 



2 2 A WANDERING STAR. 

" Good ? capital ! my dear, Vega, ' says 
her husband, bustling in at last. He has 
been giving a dozen contradictory orders to 
different retainers in the outer hall, and now, 
full of pride at his muddy and bespattered 
condition, he struts up to the fireplace, his 
broad sturdy figure filling up nearly the whole 
of the inorlenook. *' We have had wonderful 
sport ; two really first-rate runs ; a brilliant 
one in the morning. I was thrown out by 
the most unlucky series of accidents, but 
Charley here went like smoke ; however, I 
was well up in the afternoon gallop, which 
was nearly as good." 

"So it was, Albert, so it was," says his 
sister, humoring him, and perfectly ready to 
conceal the fact that he was as much thrown 
out of the one as the other ; ''and how well 
that grey carried you. Lord Gornaway had 
a long talk to me about him. He says he 
would give anything in reason for that horse, 
but I told him there wasn't the ghost of a 
chance of your selling him." 

Mr. Mossop swells with pride and 
satisfaction. He is delighted that the 



A WANDERING STAR. 23 

M.F.H. should envy him his mount, and 
delighted to be able to say that no known 
sum would tempt him to part with the 
grey. 

" Well, Vega, my dear," he says, turning 
to his wife, ''you seem very bright and 
blooming. It's all the open air, I suppose, 
as Charley says. She has more sense in her 
little finger than most people have in their 
whole bodies, and no one who follows her, in 
the hunting field, or elsewhere, will go very 
far wrong, you may take your oath of that." 

*' What did you do with yourself in Grim- 
thorpe, and who did you see ? " 

" Who could she possibly see there on a 
hunting day ? " chimes In Charley. " Why, 
Grimthorpe Is a howling wilderness when 
the hounds meet on this side of the county. 
I suppose the only man you saw was Mr. 
Lawrle, Vega ? Did he make himself as 
fasclnatinor as usual ?" 

" He took the greatest possible Interest in 
you and your dress, Charley," says Vega, 
laughing. ** Mr. Lawrle contributed the 
sporting element, and Miss MInniken the 



24 A WANDERING STAR. 

taste, SO betv/een them I think you will find 
it's all riorht." 

" You are a nice little thing," says Miss 
Mossop, stooping down and presenting her 
cool, fresh, healthy cheek for Vega to kiss. 
" You've only one fault In my eyes, and that 
is that you're no sportswoman. But one 
can't have everything, and you are very 
charming as you are. And that little Miss 
Langton who was to come here and keep 
you company now that Albert and I are 
hunting so much — Is there no word of her ? '* 

''Yes," answers Vega. " I heard from her 
to-day. Her mother won't let her come 
here till the hunt ball Is over. Dottle Isn't 
out yet, though she's as old as I am ; but 
Lady Hermlone won't hear of her going to 
It. 

She does not think it necessary to repeat 
all Dottle's remarks on the injustice and self- 
ishness of herj mother and aunt, her wild 
paroxysms of gratitude for the invitation to 
The Towers, or her highly-coloured descrip- 
tion of the horrors of the life led by herself 
and Pussie for the last two months In cheap 



A WANDERING STAR. 25 

lodgings in an-out-of-the-\vay village, while 
Lady Hermione had been paying some 
particularly lively visits. 

Dottie's bitterness has something almost 
comical about it, and her frankness, as she 
enlarges on her present privations, is all but 
brutal, and would be ludicrous if there was 
not a certain amount of pathos about it also. 
Vega laughs, but feels touched at the same 
time. 

Dottie is rough, audacious, as unscrupu- 
lous as any one with so little in her power 
can possibly be. Vega had never much in 
common with her when they were together, 
and when she had first come to Conholt as 
a stranger Dottie had been filled with actual 
hatred of the girl whom she chose to consider 
an intruder — she was consumed with envy 
and jealousy — she grudged her her pretty 
face, her taking manner, every kind word 
that Colonel Damer said to her, and every 
admiiring glance that fell naturally to the lot 
of the charming girl. 

But time had softened Dottie, and she 
had arrived at feeling a kind of affection for 



26 A WANDERING STAR. 

Vega Fitzpatrick, which increased In propor- 
tion to her troubles. 

Before Vega became Mrs. Mossop Dottle 
had actually turned into a kind of friend and 
champion. She felt sorry for her, and to be 
sorry for any one was always a sure road to 
Dottle's heart, and she had a heart, though 
a hard one, which is more than can be said 
of many better people than her. 



A WANDERING STAR. 2/ 



CHAPTER II. 

Of all the Blankshire functions none 
causes so much excitement as the hunt ball 
that is given every year in the month of 
January by Lord Gornaway and the gentle- 
men of his hunt. 

It comes at a very quiet time of the year, 
when dulness reigns in the land, and there 
is no doubt that it gives rise to more talk, 
both before and after the event, than a dozen 
London balls put together. 

In the first place, it is incumbent on the 
owners of all the large houses within a radius 
of ten miles of Grimthorpe to invite as 
many guests as their hospitable mansions 
will accommodate. Every house is bound 
to be filled to overflowing, and with the right 
people, too, because not a stone must be left 



28 * A WANDERING STAR. 

unturned to make the ball a success, for 
the hunt ball has become a regular institu- 
tion in Blankshire. 

Almost every Blankshire girl makes her 
first appearance at this ball, and even those 
who are not considered fairly out till they 
have made their curtsey to Royalty secure 
by this means a short country season to 
the good beforehand. 

It is a ball at which there are always 
plenty of men, and men of the right sort, 
too, and many a match has been arranged 
and many a proposal made in some one of 
those small dingy, shabby rooms, which by 
the aid of blue and red tarlatan, foxes' 
brushes, and masks, and other trophies of 
the chase, have been transformed into regular 
bowers of bliss. 

For weeks beforehand ball o-owns have be- 
come a burning subject, and many Blankshire 
ladies, as well as Miss Charley Mossop, have 
sought the aid of Mr. Lawrie, who, on his 
side, is ready for them all. He knows to a 
turn the exact shade of the blue facings of 
a Blankshire hunt coat, while an instinct, 



A WANDERING STAR. 29 

which almost amounts to genius, tells him 
the scarlet flowers, or berries, or feathers, 
which will not clash with the coats them- 
selves. He Is so untiring, so interested in 
every detail, so anxious to cut himself in 
two to oblige any of the "county ladies," 
that it Is no wonder that they declare that it 
is much less trouble to shop in Grimthorpe 
than in London itself! 

The Towers has not been behind its 
neighbours in its preparations for this most 
important festivity. 

If Mr. Mossop in his heart of hearts looks 
on fox-hunting in the light of a penance that 
he is bound to perform, and from which he 
may not hope to escape, at least he enjoys 
to the full its compensations. He rejoices 
in any gathering where he can wear his red 
coat, and appear as one of the principal 
supporters of the Blankshire hunt. His 
subscription to the covert fund is so large 
that he can at least impose on himself to 
that extent, and his attendance at hunt 
meetings so constant, and his interest in 
every small detail connected with the hunt 



30 A WANDERING STAR. 

SO keen, that he even imposes on other 
people. 

He has been the working member of the 
present ball committee, and in consequence 
of his labours in the town hall has managed 
to shirk two or three days' hunting. 

The Towers is now as full as it can hold, 
and though that pinchbeck castle is not 
nearly so roomy as it looks, still a large 
party is gathered under its roof Great 
fires blaze in the Versailles gallery ; guests 
lounge on the pink satin chairs, and sofas 
of the celebrated Trianon suite. The orches- 
trion seems to be going all day long, and 
there is eating and drinking from morning 
to night. 

Mr. Mossop at any rate is genuinely 
happy ; not only is he thoroughly hospitable, 
and especially delighted to fill his house 
on this occasion, but a blessed frost has 
come to raise his spirits still higher. Nay ! 
more ! a frost that looks as if it meant to 
last. 

He can grumble with the keenest, and 
lament the idleness of the horses who are 



A WANDERING STAR. 3 1 

eating their heads off in his stable, but in 
reality his heart swells with joy as he feels 
the pinch in the air, rejoices over the 
stillness and absence of wind, and counts 
up all the portents that betoken a long spell 
of frost. Miss Charley herself could not 
look more depressed when the weather is 
discussed, and sworn at ; but it is to him as 
a day of grace for which he cannot be suffi- 
ciently thankful ! 

His wife on the other hand feels no 
exultation about anything. 

After having looked forward to this ball 
as her one chance of seeing Brian Beres- 
ford, she seems suddenly to have veered 
round, and actually appears to dread it. 
The possibility of stopping away altogether 
even crosses her mind, but she knows of no 
excuse that would avail her short of positive 
falsehood, and she could hardly tell the 
reason of this sudden change even to 
herself. 

Perhaps the very eagerness with which 
she had looked forward to it may have 
opened her eyes to the truth, or it may be 



32 A WANDERING STAR. 

that the fussy but at the same time kindly 
anxiety that her husband displays about the 
clothes that she is to wear, the jewels with 
which she Is to be decked on the ball night 
may have touched her. She is grateful to 
him even while he worries her, though her 
conscience tells her that she is not half 
grateful enough. She remembers how much 
he has given her, and how hitherto she has 
taken everything passively, and as a matter 
of course ; but above all she realizes that in 
thought at least she has played him false, 
and that it is not her husband who fills her 
heart. Can she help it ? She does not 
believe it, but at least she can resolve to 
thwart him in nothing. 

So she wears the heavy white brocade, 
which he declares is the only dress in her 
possession that is important enough for 
Mrs. Mossop of The Towers ; but she looks 
childish rather than important in it, and it 
is so incongruous to her youthful face and 
slim body that it defeats its own object. 
Diamonds gleam in her fair hair, and shine 
on her white neck, and whether her dress 



A WANDERING STAR. 33 

be handsome or over-heavy there Is no 
doubt that she looks a dream of loveH- 
ness. 

The Towers party Is among the earHest 
to arrive on the scene of action, for Mr. 
Mossop is not only the hardest working 
member of the ball committee, but is also 
one of the stewards, and a very fussy and 
important one. He does not wear a red 
and blue rosette on his hunt coat for nothing, 
and he struts about full of importance, giving 
contradictory and confusing orders to ser- 
vants who fortunately know their business 
better than he can teach them, and receiving 
the small fry who invariably appear on the 
stage a long time before the more important 
people. Mr. Mossop is perfectly happy, 
and becomes more and more consequential 
as the rooms fill, and people begin to arrive 
in good earnest. 

Lord Gornaway has at last made his 
appearance, and as the two stand together 
at the door receiving their guests Mr. 
Mossop's cup of bliss Is full. 

His own party has scattered long ago, for 

VOL. III. D 



34 A WANDERING STAR. 

all his guests seem perfectly capable of 
looking after themselves. Miss Charley, 
gorgeous in blue and scarlet, and in the 
highest spirits, is the centre of a group of 
red-coated men, and her boisterous laugh 
and loud jovial voice may be heard all over 
the room. 

She does not mean to let the grass grow 
under her feet to-night ; there will be no 
sitting out in bowers of bliss for her, no 
loitering on staircases, no dallying in dimly- 
lighted corridors ! She has come determined 
to dance, and dance she will ; she is good 
for six hours at least, and as she is extremely 
popular in the hunting-field and elsewhere her 
friends rally round her, and there is brisk com- 
petition for the twenty-five dances she has to 
dispose of. She fills her card in a business-like 
manner, ties it firmly to the large fan on which 
a whole pack of hounds in full cry are painted 
in a very vigorous fashion, and then begins 
the evening's work. Vega, too, dances, and 
many an admiring eye follows her round 
the ball-room ; but she is not known in Blank- 
shire as Miss Mossop is known, and her 



A WANDERING STAR. 35 

very beauty and high-bred air seem to 
frighten some of those fox-hunting squires. 
They are much more at home as they talk 
and laugh with her sister-in-law, who knows 
all their jokes, is like one of themselves in 
all their sports and pastimes, and has long ago 
been voted " a real good fellow " by them all. 

Hence it happens that when the moment 
comes at last for the Conholt party to make 
its appearance in the ball-room Vega is not 
dancing, but is standing alone, as Brian 
Beresford comes in at the door. 

Lady Julia and her train arrive very late. 
It is her way to make her world wait ; and, 
though the hunt-ball is not exactly depend- 
ent on that great lady's arrival, there is no 
denying that there seems to be something 
wanting till she appears on the scene. 

She has always a large party, and her 
guests, as a rule, are noticeable : they are all 
of them smart, and most of them good- 
looking ; while Lady Julia herself is a 
woman about whom every one talks, and to 
whom the eyes of all naturally turn. 

She is blamed — -she is hated — some even 

D 2 



36 A WANDERING STAR, 

look askance at her ; but she is never 
neglected or overlooked — she is a "person- 
age," and the most noticeable figure in 
whatever society she finds herself. 

Even now look at her as she mounts the 
staircase and comes into the ball-room. 
Many have passed that door to-night who 
have lovelier faces, and who are in all the 
glory of youth. 

Lady Julia is older than some of these 
rivals of hers by a dozen years ; but not 
even the tongue of spite has ever called her 
faded, nor do detractors dare to whisper 
about her in the past tense. 

'' This ghastly, white-faced Time of ours " 
does not, as yet, ''mar Faustine"; and if 
she has known the joys of many "fierce 
midnights," at least, to all outward show, the 
*' famishing morrows " are still a long 

way off. 

No one could point out flaw or failure in 
the looks of such a woman : as far as the 
mere animal goes she is perfection. 

Her splendid arms and bust seem made of 
polished marble, and are as fauldessly 



A WANDERING STAR. '}^'] 

shaped as if she were a goddess carved in 
Parian by some master hand. 

Her bodice is cut low — very low ; and 
only jewelled straps, on which gleam rubies, 
diamonds, and other precious stones, do 
duty for sleeves, but hardly break the per- 
fect line of the shoulders. The whole front 
of the bodice — the whole front of the ball- 
gown, are covered with the same jewelled 
embroidery. What would be over-gorgeous 
for other women to wear is only in keeping 
with her commanding looks and presence ; 
and the folds of her dress have a shim- 
mering light on them like the flame that 
glows in the heart of a fierce furnace. 

Her handsome face is full of spirit and 
animation to-night ; and a string of dia- 
monds winds snake-like among her dark 
tresses. 

She is without a rival In her own par- 
ticular line of beauty, and her knowledge of 
that fact gives her an air of assurance and 
superiority to the common herd which would 
be worthy of an empress. 

She has a good foil to-night in the next 



38 A WANDERING STAR. 

lady of her party, who follows her into the 
room, and who — Lady Hautaine though she 
be — Is ill-dressed, ill-looking, and, if all 
accounts are true — extremely ill-mannered 
also, for she is one of those very great ladies 
who seem to despise the rest of the world, 
and who do not scruple to show their 
scorn. 

'' She is noble and nude and antique " 
with a vengeance, for her dress is nearly as 
indecently low as that of Lady Julia's, with 
this difference, that there is no display of 
beauty ; for her neck and shoulders might 
be a study in anatomy. To be sure, her 
bony collar-bones and a few of the upper 
bones of the chest are hidden by a huge 
necklace of emeralds and diamonds ; but, 
large as it is, it is not large enough to hide 
skin the colour of parchment, and a chest 
that seems to have more than the proper 
average of knobs and bumps. 

Her head is held as high in the air as 
Lady Julia's handsome head, but the effect 
is by no means the same ; and the con- 
descending smile v/ith which she surveys the 



A WANDERING STAR. 39 

scene before her is sour as well as superior. 
She bows to Mr. Mossop in a manner which 
would be aggravating if practised by a 
queen on the meanest of her subjects. 
Lord Gornaway she is ready to treat better ; 
but, as, to use his own words, "he never 
could abide the old woman," she receives no 
encouragement from him to linger at his 
side. 

Next in order comes Lady Hermione, 
looking nearly as handsome as her sister, 
even though her gown is black and plain, 
and cut in a style of almost rigid severity. 
But its very plainness sets off her fine figure 
amazingly ; and the few diamond ornaments 
that lighten it and crown her small, well- 
shaped head seem to have twice the effect of 
those worn with more brilliant attire. 

Two pretty girls in white complete the 
ladies of the Conholt party ; and then come 
about half a dozen good-looking young men, 
all in red coats, all with gardenias in their 
button-holes, all pretty much alike, and all 
full of swagger ; while Colonel Damer, 
high - bred and distinguished looking, and 



40 A WANDERING STAR. 

Brian Beresford, slim, lithe, still sunburnt 
with tropical suns, and handsomer than any 
of the others, brings up the rear. 

They arrive at exactly the right moment. 
One dance is over, the next is not yet 
begun, and people cluster round them to pay 
court to Lady Julia, to extract a frosty smile 
from Lady Hautaine, and to engage the 
pretty girls in white for as many dances as 
possible. 

Then the band begins a noisy cheerful 
Lancers, and Lady Julia sweeps to the top 
of the room on Lord Hautaine's arm, 
followed by others of her party who mean to 
dance, and who intend to do so in an 
exclusive set of their own. 

Brian Beresford is not of the number, for 
something seems to draw him to Vega's side 
at once. " You are not dancing, Mrs. 
Mossop. Will you dance this with me ? " 

A lovely colour mounts to her cheeks as 
he speaks to her, and her eyes look up at 
him shyly and wistfully. Try as she like, she 
cannot give them a common-place expres- 
sion ; still the very feeling of joy that fills 



A WANDERING STAR. 4 1 

her heart recalls to her mind the resolutions 
she has made so lately, and which she has 
so earnestly determined to keep. 

What shall she say or do ? Shall she fail 
at once, or shall she avoid him, as every 
instinct of her heart tells her is her duty ? 
She will try. " I don't think I care to dance 
this, Mr. — Mr. Beresford," she stammers 
out, halting lamely as she utters her formal 
greeting. " I don't mean to dance very much 
to-night. I havebeen dancing, and I am tired." 

Brian looks hurt, and is about to turn 
away without a word of protest when Mr. 
Mossop, whose duties as one of the hosts are 
pretty well over, and who now is able to fuss 
and interfere in other quarters, puts in his oar. 
'' Tired, my dear Vega ? " he says, in tones ot 
positive annoyance. " Why ! the ball has 
hardly begun. Surely you are not so tired 
that you can't dance these Lancers at any 
rate. Look ! look ! Lady Julia and Lord 
Hautaine want a vis-a-vis. Of course you 
must dance, and dance opposite them. Look 
sharp, Beresford, before they get some one 
else." 



42 A WANDERING STAR. 

So Vega, before she knows what she is 
about, finds herself fighting her way through 
the crowd at Brian's side ; but her husband s 
wish that they should have the honour of 
dancing in Lady Julia's set is not gratified, 
for Brian does not aspire to such distinction, 
and indeed carefully avoids catching the 
great lady's eye. They drift into another 
set, made up of far less important people, 
none of whom they happen to know. They 
seem struck dumb both of them — they 
dance in a mechanical sort of way, but they 
do not flirt, nor are they merry. Now that 
they are together again they feel constrained, 
nervous, ill at ease ; they are not like 
strangers, but are they friends ? Brian looks 
once or twice at the white-robed fissure at 
his side, who, with looks averted, seems 
positively to shrink from him. 

'' What are my faults or shortcomings in 
her eyes ? " he asks himself, bitterly. "In 
what have I sinned, and why should she bear 
me a grudge ? It was not / who played 
false, but she who went in for the double 
game. She deceived me thoroughly ; but it 



A WANDERING STAR. 43 

would have taken a wiser man than I to have 
doubted her truth. What an Innocent child 
she looked the very last night I saw her, — 
the night of Lady Julia's masked ball, — 
and yet she let me make love to her while 
she had promised that very day that she 
would marry that fellow Mossop. When we 
sat together in the rose-garden I could have 
sworn that she loved me too. Who could 
have thought that it was all as nothing to 
her — a mere passing fancy on her part ? 
God knows that I loved her from the first 
minute I saw her, and that night seemed to 
put the crowning touch to It all. I adored 
her, and all but told her so — the words were 
trembling on my lips, and would have been 
spoken had not that wretched woman come 
to spy on us. Fancy a girl with an angel 
face like that ready — eager — to sell herself for 
money ! One can hardly take it in. Well ! 
she has got the hard cash, and I hope -It 
makes her happy. I don't see why she 
should shun me for all that, but I have 
read somewhere that people always hate 
those they have wronged ; so If that Is 



44 A WANDERING STAR. 

true I expect she hates me with her whole 
heart." 

Everything seems dark to Vega also, for 
her mind is tortured by thoughts that war 
against each other. In spite of her own 
will she knows that she loves Brian — loves 
him with her whole heart — loves him as If 
there was no Mr. Mossop In the world, and 
it was not a sin to do so — and yet — and yet — 
she tries to remember his treachery to her ; 
to lash herself into anger as she recalls his 
mockery of her love, and his betrayal of 
her to her enemy. She remembers It all ; 
she recalls the very words he used when he 
scoffed at her, but though the words come 
back, now their sense seems to be deadened ; 
or is it that as she stands beside her false 
love she forgets everything but joy in his 
presence ? 

And yet they do not look a very joyful 
pair. They are both Intensely quiet and 
silent, and he has not a word to say to his 
partner when he takes her back to her seat 
and her husband, for it chances that Mr. 
Mossop is sitting there resting after his 



A WANDERING STAR. 45 

exertions. Beresford does not ask her for 
another dance, but goes away without a word, 
leaving husband and wife sitting side by 
side. It seems hard that Vega, who watches 
his tall figure making its way through the 
crowd, and believes she has really estranged 
him by her coldness, does not feel the glow 
of virtue that should be hers by right. It 
seems hard that she should feel duller and 
morely lonely than ever ; indeed, she seems 
dead to everything, and her husband's voice 
sounds as if it were miles away. He has two 
or three distinct grievances to which she 
listens vaguely, but with little understanding 
of their importance. Can she explain why 
Lord Gornaway has not asked her to dance ? 
He and Mr. Mossop are such friends that 
he cannot believe it is meant as a slight, but 
still it is very extraordinary. Why does she 
not take up her proper position on the dais, 
where the most important people of the 
county sit, as it were, in semi-state ? Why 
does she not go near any of the Conholt 
Park people ? and is she aware that her 
uncle, Lord Hautaine, is in the room, and 



46 A WANDERING STAR. 

does she not intend to be introduced to him 
and Lady Hautaine ? It is perfectly absurd. 
He will speak to Lady Julia herself about it, 
and get her to introduce them both to Vega's 
great relations. Mr. Mossop's voice grows 
quite querulous, and his wife is thankful when 
her next partner arrives on the scene and she 
is dancing once more. She does not listen 
much more to her present companion's 
remarks than she did to her husband's string 
of complaints, and the fulsome compliments 
that he pours into her ears are lost on her 
entirely, for she is watching Brian Beresford, 
who is dancing also, and as she follows him 
with her eyes she has no thought for any- 
thing else. 

The evening wears on — Vega has danced 
a great deal, and is really tired, all the 
more so that she has had very little pleasure 
in it. 

It is to be feared that she has not tried to 
obey her husband's injunctions — she has not 
danced with Lord Gornaway — she has not 
joined the Conholt party — above all, she has 
carefully avoided the dais on which Mr. 



A WANDERING STAR. 47 

Mossop would fain have seen her '' take her 
proper place." She Is now waiting for her 
next partner, and Is leaning against one of 
the large pillars, draped with flags and 
wreathed with evergreens, that support the 
raised part of the room, to which gilded arm- 
chairs and important dowagers have been 
relegated ever since the first ball was held in 
the Grimthorpe Town Hall. 

The dais is all but empty now, for only- 
Lady Hautalne is enthroned there in solitary 
state ; but Vega does not feel inclined to take 
possession of one of the empty chairs in her 
neighbourhood, and remains hidden from 
the great lady's eye by the draped pillar. 

A well-known, highly-pitched, but well- 
bred voice falls on her ear as she so stands, 
and from her corner Vega sees Lady Her- 
mlone's tall graceful figure as she crosses the 
dais, and takes possession of a vacant arm- 
chair next to Lady Hautalne. Though Lady 
Hermlone seeks her neighbourhood they are 
not very congenial souls for all that. 

There have been episodes in the one lady's 
career at which the other still shudders when 



48 A WANDERING STAR. 

she refers to them, as in spite of her pious 
horror she is very fond of doing. 

There was even a time when Lady Her- 
mione found it extremely difficult to catch 
Lady Hautaine's eye on any public occasion, 
when such recognition would have been of 
distinct value to her. 

The cold, fishy, prominent eyes of the 
greater lady had a way of looking past her 
without seeing her, and a more lowly offender 
would certainly have been cut altogether. A 
little more latitude was conceded by her to one 
of her own order ; but Lady Hautaine was 
nothing if not virtuous, and she had shaken 
her head over Lady Hermione's peccadilloes 
as long as they lasted. She could not un- 
derstand why people should not conduct 
themselves properly. The breath of scandal 
had never touched herself, and she supposed 
she had been young like other people. 
Nevertheless, a certain amount of worldly 
wisdom tempered mercy with judgment, and 
guided the hand that held the scales of 
justice. 

She was conveniently blind to some of 



A WANDERING STAR. 49 

Lady Julia's shortcomings, and far more mer- 
ciful than she would have been to a less im- 
portant person, while her hand would have 
been still more heavy on Lady Hermionehad 
she not been so well connected. 

Now that Lady Hermione — more from 
necessity than inclination — has joined the 
ranks of the virtuous, Lady Hautalne re- 
ceives her, not with open arms — that recep- 
tion would only have been accorded to a 
much more richly dowered sinner — but with 
toleration ! 

They sit there together, side by side — the 
woman who has never strayed, has kept 
every jot and tittle of the law, has been 
respected, feared, considered all her life, but 
never tempted, never loved, and never been 
young, and the other, who, whatever she 
may now be, has led a lawless life, and who 
is now only just able to pass muster in the 
ranks of the fairly respectable. But ex- 
tremes meet, and it is curious to hear one 
as ready as the other to slander her neigh- 
bour, and to spy out evil even where It does 
not exist. Lady Hautalne, who has never 

VCL. III. E 



50 A WANDERING STAR. 

been tempted, and Lady Hermlone, who has 
been tempted only too much, agree, at least 
on one point, that '' there is none that doeth 
good, no, not one ! " 

They smite all and spare none ; but it is 
odd that Lady Hautaine should be as sharp 
to discover wrong-doing as Lady Hermione 
with all her experience. The woman who 
has only learned the ways of vice by hear- 
say seems to know by heart ever}^ turn of 
the road down which she has never strayed. 
Indeed, so vindictive and rancorous is she 
in some of her judgments that Lady Her- 
mione, as an old offender herself, cannot 
help feeling a certain amount of sympathy 
for some of those who come under her lash ; 
but as she cannot afford that Lady Hautaine 
should consider her morality over easy she 
does not try to stem the torrent of words. 

'' And that Fitzpatrick girl, to whom I 
must say, your sister has been wonderfully 
kind," asks Lady Hautaine, suddenly, ''how 
has she turned out ? What a blessing for 
Julia that she found some one to marry her. 
I suppose this Mr. Mossop couldn't have 



A WANDERING STAR. 5 I 

been very particular — at least Ralph Fitz- 
patrick's daughter wouldn't be very welcome 
in most families. Hautaine wanted me, at 
one time, to take her up, but I had no idea 
of that sort of thing. One's duty to one- 
self and to society forbids such quixotic 
kindness. What kind of girl is she ? " 

" I don't think you would approve of her 
at all," says Lady Hermione, who has always 
hated Vega with an unreasoning kind of 
hatred, and Vvdio is glad to speak evil of her, 
even to some one who does not know the 
girl. " She gave my sister no end of trouble 
when she was at Conholt, and I didn't at all 
approve of her as a companion for Pussie 
and Dottie." 

" I see," answers Lady Hautaine, shaking 
her head till the diamonds that were stuck 
about her grizzled locks twinkled again. 
" Just what one might have expected — a 
thoroughly unprincipled girl. For my part, 
as I told Hautaine, I believe what I read in 
my Bible : I do not expect grapes from 
thorns, or figs from thistles, and certainly 
should as little expect a daughter of that 

E 2 



LfBRARV 

UNIVERSITY OF flUNOlS 



52 A WANDERING STAR. 

dreadful man to turn out well. The scandal 
about her father took place very soon after 
I entered the family, and I may congratulate 
myself that even then I had the sense to see 
that we must have nothing more to do with 
such people. Of course Hautaine and I 
were both sorry for Mary, but after all it 
was entirely her own fault that she made the 
marriage she did, and she could not expect 
us to be hand and glove with such a black 
sheep as Ralph Fitzpatrick. I kept Hautaine 
steady to this view of the matter, for I was 
determined he should not be mixed up with 
such a disreputable lot. Mary, poor thing, 
died very soon after, so there was no further 
difficulty, as we naturally never acknow- 
ledged Fitzpatrick or his child as having any 
claim on us in any way. I suppose she 
takes after him ? " 

''Well, she doesn't cheat at cards, if that 
is what you mean," returns Lady Hermione, 
with her usual plain-spoken brutality and 
directness ; *' but her manners to men are 
most objectionable. She must have been 
brought up in a queer school ; she is so for- 



A WANDERING STAR. 53 

ward and pushlnp;-. Why, even Reginald 
wasn't safe from her when she was at 
Conholt ; she made eyes at him whenever 
she could — indeed, in strict confidence, I 
may tell you he was quite silly about her." 

"Ah ! I know what men are," interpolates 
Lady Hautaine, her lean head shaking more 
impressively than ever as she recalls the 
times when even her lord and master himself 
might have been beguiled by a pretty face. 

'' Has Julia never told you about a pic-nic 
to which she took this girl ? " continues Lady 
Hermione. "' There was very nearly a re- 
gular scandal about that. She got lost, if you 
please, and didn't turn up till the next morn- 
ing. You can imagine how every one talked ! 
Fortunately Mr. Mossop was her com- 
panion, and as they married soon after it 
didn't so much matter ; but you can judge for 
yourself from that the sort of girl she is." 

*' I cannot be sufficiently thankful that I 
never would have anything to do with such a 
girl/' says Lady Hautaine, piously. "Hautaine 
shall hear of this, and I suppose now at 
least he will confess that I have been right." 



54 A WANDERING STAR. 

» 

The subject of their conversation Is In the 
meantime Incapable of moving from her 
place. She has not lost a word, for the 
voices of both the speakers are clear and 
distinct, and they are also quite close to her. 

But can she believe her ears ? Can this 
be herself that she hears thus maliciously 
described ? Does the world in general con- 
demn and despise her for her father's short- 
comings ? Must she bear the burden of his 
sins as well as her own ? Is she a kind of 
pariah — a black sheep, to be chased from the 
fold as unworthy to mix with the pure and 
good ? Can no one see any good In her, and 
has the finger of scorn always been pointed 
at her though she saw It not ? 

She has had many a desolate, many a 
solitary, moment In her short life, but never a 
worse one than this. It Is such a sudden 
blow, and she does not know how she will 
be able to stand It at all. It has drained all 
the colour from her sweet cheeks ; dimmed 
the light of her lovely eyes ; her hands shake, 
and she looks as If some one had struck her 
an actual physical blow. The music has 



A WANDERING STAR. 55 

begun, the rest of the world dances, she only 
is alone and forlorn, struck to the heart with 
Lady Hermione's poisoned arrows. 

Her partner, a jovial fox-hunting squire 
and a friend of Miss Charley's, has ap- 
parently forgotten her, and is, as a matter of 
fact, supping heartily with some kindred 
spirits, honestly unmindful of his engage- 
ment to pretty Mrs. Mossop. Is it good or 
bad luck that brings Brian Beresford near 
her at this minute ? 

She at least is incapable of judging; all 
she knows is that a friendly voice reaches 
her ear, and that she all but falls a-weeping 
when she hears kind words ao^ain. 

He sees that something has gone wrong 
wich her — has hurt her — though he refrains 
from asking what is amiss ; but their eyes 
meet ; they seem to understand each other 
for the first time to-night, and almost with- 
out a spoken word they are dancing together. 
Were \^ega only a few years older she 
would dance with a heavy heart ; but 
when one is young one can throw off 
sorrow so easily. A child forgets its tears 



56 A WANDERING STAR. 

almost before they are dried on the rounded 
cheek ; and before youth — blessed youth ! — 
has spread its wings and left us for ever, 
grief has but a poor, uncertain hold. 

Vega forgets everything in Brian's arms. 
There is some joy left in life after all — there 
are some compensations for its exceeding 
bitterness ! The revulsion of feelinor has 
been sudden, but what of that ? 

The best moments are never those that 
are the most carefully prepared and planned 
out before hand, and the step from misery to 
happiness is a short one when the feet are 
not too old and tired. 

The cruel words that had cut her to the 
quick have passed out of her memory, and, 
for the moment at least, they are as if they 
had been unspoken. Brian's voice has always 
been to her the sweetest sound on earth, and 
to be near him was all that she ever wanted. 
It must be owned that that dance has no 
very calming or sobering influence on either 
of them, and when the last sweet, melancholy 
notes of the music die away their hearts and 
brains both seem on fire. 



A WANDERING STAR. 57 

" Come now, and rest for a little," says 
Brian, in an unsteady sort of voice, and they 
cross the ball-room and the dimly-lighted 
corridor beyond to one of the small rooms 
where the lights are still more dim, and where 
the decorations that Mr. Mossop had person- 
ally superintended that very morning can 
hardly be made out in the gloom. 

" Look ! look ! Lady Hautaine," says Lady 
Hermione, laying her hand impressively on 
the skinny yellow arm of her more impor- 
tant companion, while lovely Vega passes 
close to the foot of the dais at Brian's side. 
" Did you ever see anything so barefaced as 
that ? or perhaps you don't know that that 
girl was frightfully talked about with Brian 
Beresford before she came across this unfor- 
tunate Mr. Mossop ? Just look at them now ! 
I call it a little too early in the day to begin 
that kind of thing." 

*' / should say," returns Lady Hautaine, 
drawing herself up with a jerk as if she 
believed a rigid attitude to be the outward 
and visible sign of rigid virtue, " that it was 
always too early in the day for a married 



58 A WANDERING STAR. 

woman to begin to flirt. I don't know what 
you may think about it, Lady Hermione, but 
I have very strong opinions on that subject." 

Lady Hermione winces, for she knows 
that her companion means to be nasty, and 
to remind her of the many lovers she had 
loved early and late ; and though it is a kind 
of consolation for her to remember that men 
would as soon have made love to a Medusa 
as to the stiff-necked lady at her side, even 
in the heyday of her youth, it is but a poor 
one, for she does not dare to put her feelings 
into words. 

Lady Hautaine looks with hard eyes at 
Vega through glasses that cling firmly to her 
bonv nose. 

*' She certainly has a certain amount of 
good looks — pretty colouring, and all that, 
but she won't last. I only give her a few 
years at the outside. Wait till she's your age 
or mine, my dear Lady Hermione, and where 
will she be then ? " 

Lady Hermione winces in good earnest 
now. It is almost more than the successful 
beauty of a very few years ago can stand, 



A WANDERING STAR. 59 

even though it is utterly absurd that she 
should be bracketed, as far as age and looks 
go, with Lady Hautaine. It is hard for her to 
curb her tongue, or to hide her angry looks, 
and her black eyes flash in spite of her 
efforts, and she leans back in her gilded chair 
choking with mortification. 

*' Don't point her out to his lordship, 
my dear," continues Lady Hautaine, not 
altogether unconscious of the storm she has 
raised ; '' pray don't talk about her to him on 
any account. There is something of Mary 
in her face — something, at least, that might 
possibly remind him of his sister, and as I 
haven't the slightest intention of taking up 
this flighty young woman or her extremely 
vulgar husband, it is as well to avoid any dis- 
cussion on the subject." 

Lord Hautaine, who joins them on the 
dais at this moment, does not, poor man, look 
a foe that she need fear, for his broad, fair, 
good-natured countenance, with its vacant 
expression, and retreating chin, indicates a 
character extremely unlikely to show fight 
should his strong-minded wife buckle on her 



6o A WANDERING STAR. 

armour and step down in the arena. Like a 
good general, however, she evidendy prefers 
to avoid an engagement when possible, and 
she considers the tactics that would keep him 
in ignorance of the near neighbourhood of the 
only child of hisdead sistertobe wise and right, 
or at least perfectly justified by circumstances. 

In the meantime Brian and Vega are 
sitting near — dangerously near — together, in 
a solitude which is of itself always perilously 
suggestive. 

" I thought you had changed to me," is 
all the man has to say to the woman who 
believes and is firmly persuaded he has given 
her only too much cause to do so. 

It is a commonplace, banal speech enough ; 
no doubt something like it has been mur- 
mured half a dozen times to-night by those 
who meant nothing by it ; perhaps the walls 
of this very roomi have echoed to the question 
and heard the laughing reply. 

There is no laughter in Vega's voice as 
she answers Brian Beresford, and there is no 
ano^er either. Her answer seems to have burnt 
itself out ; but it is in hurt, pained, sad tones 



A WANDERING STAR. 6 1 

that she responds to the challenge : ** Not 
before I had cause, Brian." 

She wishes he would not refer to the past — 
it won't bear thinking about ; and she, even 
she, who has so much to forgive, has for- 
gotten it for to-night. She is so often 
unhappy that she feels as if it were only fair 
that she should have some compensation. 
No one could have the heart to grudge her 
these few happ}^ minutes, so why should 
Brian, of all people, do his best to spoil them ? 

She trusted him once : he failed her, and 
if her love for him is still, alas ! so great that 
it makes her forget his treachery, even she 
can see that it will not stand thinking about. 
How can he still harp on about it ? and yet 
it seems as if he could not leave it alone. 

" I don't know what you mean, Vega," is 
his answer, and he looks her full in the face. 

It is not the face of a traitor, and yet, 
surely, he cannot forget. 

'* I know I must have done something to 
displease you," he goes on, " for you are 
quite different to what you used to be. I 
can't tell you hov/ sorry I am to have hurt 



62 A WANDERING STAR. 

you In any way ; but I never could make 
out what my fault was. And yet you could 
not be unjust or fanciful. Tell me, Vega — 
be frank with me — tell me how I have 
offended you." 

" Did it seem nothing to you," she asks, 
as her large white fan shakes in her trem- 
bling fingers, ''that you should have laughed 
at and turned me into ridicule to Lady 
Hermione ? I know now — and, Indeed, I 
knew then — that it was wronof of me to have 
deceived them all. I ought never to have 
gone down and danced that night without 
their knowledge. I ought not to have put 
on that mask and domino when you brought 
them to me. But one can't always be wise 
— and, besides, I was so young, Brian : you 
might have remembered that, and you, who 
tempted me, should have made some allow- 
ance for me. You might have thought of 
that before you made a mock of me to her ! 
— to Lady Hermione, of all people ! Oh, 
why did you choose her for your confidante ? 
Even Lady Julia, who was always harsh 
and violent, and never gave me a kind word 



A WANDERING STAR. 63 

in her life — even she would not have been 
so bad. But Lady Hermione was always 
merciless ! " 

As Beresford listens to her he is filled 
with astonishment. 

What is she talking about ? and what 
does it all mean ? He has not the faintest 
clue — he has nothing to guide him. She 
accuses him of something- — he knows not 
what. Lady Hermione — treachery — 
unkindness — how can he read the riddle — 
how undo the tangled web ? 

He betray Vega to a woman he detested 
and distrusted as heartily as he did Lady 
Hermione Langton ! What answer can he 
make to such a mad accusation ? He sees 
that his companion is very much agitated, 
that her sweet little face looks white and 
drawn ; and he realizes dimly that there 
must have been foul play of some kind. 

" Tell me, as clearly as you can, what you 
mean, Vega," he asks, in a low, but firm, 
voice. '' I swear to you I don't know what 
you are talking about. / laugh at you, with 
Lady Hermione ! / betray you to that 



64 A WANDERING STAR. 

woman ! I would sooner have cut off my 
right hand. You should have known that, 
without my saying so. You should have 
trusted me a little ; but I suppose you 
trusted your enemies Instead, and you lis- 
tened to their lies ! " 

Vega shakes her head sadly. She is not 
suspicious by nature ; but how can she 
doubt the truth of the story that Dottle told 
her the very day after the masked ball ? 
She had been compelled, In spite of herself, 
to believe It then ; and a year and a half's 
brooding had not shown her how Lady 
Hermione could possibly have heard her 
secret from any one but Beresford himself. 

'* Tell me my faults," he asks again, 
impatiently. ** Even a criminal Is allowed 
to hear what sin he Is accused of. I must 
hear. You must speak out. I, who know 
what those two sisters are, know that there 
has been foul play somehow. In common 
fairness to both of us I must be told ! " 

He takes her hand In his, but this time he 
is Impelled by no lover-like sentiment ; for 
he takes it rather as one encourages a 



A WANDERING STAR. 65 

frightened child to speak without fear. It is 
too serious a moment for him to think of 
anything but the subject on hand. Lady 
Hermione has borne false witness. Of that 
he feels assured ; but he is bound to know 
the rights of the story, and then he will give 
her the lie direct. 

The evening is wearing on. The ball Is 
all but over. Already the feet of the 
departing guests may be heard in the cor- 
ridor ; and In the room where they sit may 
be distinguished the roll of wheels, the 
stamping of impatient horses, loud voices in 
the street, and all the bustle that betokens 
the end of all things. Beresford feels that 
there is no time to be lost : before they part 
he must have found out what it all means. 
He comes nearer his companion, and he still 
holds her hand. They are a lover-like pair, 
and woe betide them if Lady Hautaine's 
cold, fishy eyes, or Lady Hermlone's bold 
black ones, spy them out at this moment. 
Kinder eyes light on them, however, and, 
fortunately, they belong to Miss Charley Mos- 
sop, who is hastening back to the ballroom 

VOL. in. F 



66 A WANDERING STAR. 

as If she could not afford to lose a moment, 
although she has danced Incessantly the whole 
evening, talked at the same rate, and even 
kept moving between dances, at moments 
when weaker or more languid people like to 
rest, and when those Inclined to flirtation 
look out for some lonely corner where a 
solitude a deux can be found ! 

But she has not hunted three days a week 
since the season began for nothing ; and her 
condition Is perfect. In the words of her 
favourite and most congenial partner, **she 
has not turned a hair to-night," and she 
looks as lively, bouncing, and jovial as she 
did five and a half hours ago, when the 
night was still young. She and a red- 
coated gentleman tore downstairs not five 
minutes ago for a little supper ; but the first 
notes of " The Foxhunter's Galop " have 
recalled them to a sense of duty, and they 
now come along the corridor In double-quick 
time. 

. *' They've found ; we must get a good 
start," are the exact words of her partner, as 
they hurry over the ground, rejoicing In the 



A WANDERING STAR. 67 

prospect of a half-empty ball-room and good 
going. 

As they stamp along the passage, their 
feet keeping time already to the swing of the 
music, Miss Charley looks, with no malice 
prepense, through the half-open door of the 
room where Beresford and Vega are sitting. 

The latter is attracted by the sound of 
merry and, it must be confessed, loud and 
noisy voices, and sees Miss Mossop looking at 
her. She is never very good at standing fire, 
and the bright colour rushes suddenly to the 
cheeks that were so pale but a moment ago. 

It is too bad that she should blush, for she 
has nothing to blush for ; but it is the 
expression of her sister-in-law's eyes that 
calls up that lovely flag of distress. Miss 
Mossop stands there for a minute at least, 
forgetting that her partner waxes impatient, 
that she is losing some bars of her favourite 
galop, and that both bandsmen and dancers 
are at this moment chanting the exploits of 
John Peel ! Her vigorous voice would ere 
now have swelled the chorus, and her ''view 
halloa " would have been as true, if not quite 

F 2 



6S A WANDERING STAR. 

as loud as her companion's ; but something 
sobers her for the moment ; she is sorry to see 
Vega looking quite as she does, and It strikes 
her that she is far too pretty and too young 
to be left to her own devices. She is but 
a child in Miss Mossop's eyes, and the latter 
is far too sensible, as well as too '' good a 
fellow," to take it for granted that because 
the girl is married therefore she does not 
need a friendly hand. 

She shakes her head — a friendly, but 
warning shake — and Vega sees her good- 
humoured face grow serious all of a sudden ; 
but Miss Mossop passes on, for there is 
nothing else for her to do. But before she 
joins the excited dancers, who are tearing 
down the long room as if their lives 
depended on their haste, she says one word 
to her brother, who, sleepy but still im- 
portant, is standing near the door shaking 
hands with tired dowagers and Irate fathers 
w^ho have at last succeeded in collecting 
their troublesome flocks, and who are deter- 
mined ** not to keep the horses waiting any 
longer ! " 



A WANDERING STAR. 69 

** Albert," says Miss Mossop In a discreet 
whisper, " I see all the best people are gone 
now. There are only a few of the towns- 
people remaining, and I really think It Is 
high time that we should be off too. The 
Conholt party went half an hour ago, 
and so did Lady Gornaway." (Wise Miss 
Charley ! she knows how to get what she 
wants, or rather what she thinks right.) 

" No ! no ! I don't want to dance this. 
I have had enough now, and I think we had 
better be collecting our party. I will go 
and tell Mrs. Albert that you think It Is 
time to depart." 

Her partner looks black, her brother 
feebly proposes that they should wait just 
for this last dance ; but the man who is 
nearer fifty than forty Is, as a rule, easily 
persuaded that a ball Is over when the 
dissipated hour of 4 a.m. has been reached. 
Even were Mr. Mossop enjoying himself, he 
would be eager to be off If he knew for 
certain that the best people had gone — as it 
Is he can think of home and bed with a clear 
conscience ! 



70 A WANDERING STAR. 

*' Well ! good night, Mr. Stokes," says 
Miss Mossop, in loud, cheerful tones, shaking 
warmly by the hand her disappointed partner. 
** I will look out for Vega, Albert, and you 
will find us both at the cloak-room door in 
two minutes." Miss Mossop is as good as 
her word : Vega is told that it is time to 
start, and her agitating conversation with 
Brian is abruptly brought to an end, for 
Miss Mossop seems possessed with the • idea 
that the party once collected should keep 
together, and she allows of no stragglers. 

A few minutes' delay at the entrance 
gives Beresford a chance of another word, 
in spite of her well-meant efforts, while 
Mr. Mossop, somewhat red in the face 
and excited (for like some of the other 
gentlemen of the hunt he has supped freely 
two or three times), stumps fussily about, 
calling loudly for '' my footman," '^ my 
people," and much annoyed that there is 
some delay in finding '* my carriage." 

Brian speaks low to Vega, and about the 
earnestness of his tones there can be no 
doubt. ** I must know what you meant by 



A WANDERING STAR. 7 1 

what you said to-night. You are bound to 
tell me of what I am accused. How can 
it be done ? " 

Vega makes no answer for a moment, 
though a wild hope springs into life that Brian 
may be innocent after all, and how joyful such 
a possibility makes her no one can say. But 
she is bound to be misunderstood, for her 
charming smile as she looks up at him and 
whispers '' you must ask Dottie, — she can 
tell you," is seen by her sister-in-law, who 
unfortunately does not hear the words ; but 
that sweet look gives her food for serious 
reflection as they drive home to The 
Towers. 



72 A WANDERING STAR. 



CHAPTER III. 

"How you do run on, Pussie ! " says 
Dottie Langton to her sister, as she bustles 
about the bedroom at Conholt that they 
share In common, " and how prying you are, 
to be sure. What do you see so very 
extraordinary In my going out for a walk 
to-day ? Aren't we expected, even com- 
manded, to drag about out of doors the 
whole afternoon ? Didn't Aunt Julia tell the 
Mums, In that frank, horrid way she always 
talks, that she ought to keep us out all day 
long, In hopes that It might Improve our 
looks ? ' The fresh air might bring a little 
colour to poor Pussle's lanthorn jaws, and 
Dottle, who Is as broad as she's long, and, 
between you and I, very coarse, can't have 
enough exercise.' That was what she said 
no further back than yesterday, so pray may 
I ask you why you should be surprised if I 



A WANDERING STAR. 73 

go for a long walk on the off chance of my 
figure being improved in the process — what 
they call fined down ? " 

Dottie Langton's tirade here ends abruptly, 
for the duties of the toilette call for a steady 
hand and great attention on her part, and 
she cannot afford to let her tongue run on 
at the same time. 

She is like Jezebel, tiring herself at the 
window, and is standing in front of a small 
shabby looking-glass which is all that 
Conholt Park can afford in the shape of a 
mirror for the Misses Langton's bedroom. 
She certainly seems extremely busy. The 
room, which is dingy, stuffy, and shabbily 
furnished, is littered with her clothes, which 
sprawl in a life-like fashion on the chairs, 
or are flung carelessly on the floor. It is 
more like a kitchenmaid's room than that 
of a young lady, and the toilette-table, 
whose dirty cover is a mass of hairpins, 
pots of pomatum, face powder, shady-look- 
ing brushes and combs, and bottles of cheap 
scent, carries out the idea. 

Dottie has been powdering her nose ; she 



74 A WANDERING STAR. 

now tries some experiments with her eyes ; 
and then a long stick of pinky, sticky stuff, 
which she has managed to purloin from her 
mother's room, is rubbed on her lips till they 
shine with grease and give a Jewish expres- 
sion to her somewhat swarthy countenance. 
The dark, heavy masses of her long hair 
have been piled so high on her head that 
she positively looks top-heavy, and at the 
same time they turn her into an almost 
comical caricature of Lady Julia drawn by 
some malicious hand. But Dottie is satisfied 
with the result of her labours, and smiles to 
herself as she sticks some florid gilt pins 
among the shining coils. 

" I don't ask what takes you out," says 
Pussie, in cross, querulous tones, from the 
bed, on which a great deal besides blankets 
and sheets seem to be piled pell-mell ; 
a flannel petticoat is tied round her head, 
for poor Pussie is a martyr to faceache and 
neuralgia, and the yellow folds of the gar- 
ment, pinned on anyhow, is not a becoming 
setting to the pinched little face which has 
certainly a good excuse now to look 



A WANDERING STAR. 75 

peevish and miserable ; but I want to know 
who you are getting yourself up for in 
this ridiculous way ? / know how you 
go out of doors on ordinary occasions. 
You fling yourself into Aunt Julias old 
fur jacket that was cut down for you last 
winter : why ! you don't even take the 
trouble to lace up your boots properly, 
you just tie them on anyhow, and then you 
put on that awful sailor hat, and you're off. 
Now, to-day, it's quite sickening to see you 
powdering, and curling, and making yourself 
up, grinning at yourself all the time in the 
looking-glass. And what do I see next?" 
And here Pussie forgets her maladies, and 
struggles into an upright position in bed, the 
flannel petticoat hanging like a mantle round 
her, while her thin bony arm is stretched 
forth, as if denouncing some iniquity of her 
sister's. ** Dottie ! how dare you ? Take 
off that hat at once ! " for Dottie has 
crowned her black locks with a feathered 
hat of exaggerated smartness, which, indeed, 
had been a failure of Lady Julia's, who had 
literally flung it at Pussie's head when the 



7^ A WANDERING STAR. 

great lady had made up her mind that It did 
not suit herself. 

*'Take it off! take It off!" reiterates 
Pussie, her bloodless little face looking 
viciously at her sister, '* or I shall get out of 
bed and tear it from your head ! " 

" Let me wear it this one afternoon," says 
Dottie, in tones a vast deal more dulcet than 
her sister is usually favoured with ; '* just this 
afternoon," she pleads, " and I will do any- 
thing you like in return — fag for you, bring 
you up tea half a dozen times in the day if 
you want it — get hold of some of the down- 
stairs novels when Aunt Julia and all the 
visitors are out — if you will only let me wear 
your hat this once." 

Dottie looks at herself fondly in the glass, 
then at the door, to see if she can carry her 
point by taking to her heels ; but she elects 
to win by fair means, if possible. 

'' And why on earth should you wear my 
best hat .-^ " asks Pussie, wrathfully ; ''you 
look a perfect fright in it Into the bargain. 
What is the reason of all this finery ? " 

" If I tell you," says Dottie, springing to 



A WANDERING STAR. "J"] 

the side of the bed with the bound of an 
overgrown puppy, " will you let me keep it 
on ? I had never meant to tell a human 
being, but if you will lend me your hat, and 
also promise solemnly not to tell a soul — not 
even Jane — you shall hear." 

Pussie has been devoured with curiosity 
for the last half hour, and takes the bait, all 
the more freely because she feels that in a 
hand-to-hand encounter to-day she would be 
worsted by an enemy who could always 
carry the point by instant flight. 

" Well, go on then," she says, sullenly, 
" I can't fight with you any longer." 

''Then be prepared to open your eyes as 
wide as they will go," answers Dottle, swell- 
ing with pride and importance. '' I am golno- 
down the glen to meet Brian Beresford ! " 

''To meet Brian Beresford!" repeats 
Pussie, in tones of utter unbelief. " What 
rubbish you are talking. You must have 
gone mad, or else you think that I am out of 
my mind. I suppose the next thing will be 
that you will tell me he asked you to meet 
him." 



78 A WANDERING STAR. 

" So he did — so he did ! " says Dottle, her 
beady black eyes sparkling with joy. 

'' / dont believe it ! " answers Pussie, sink- 
ing back on her pillow with a sigh of relief 
on having, as she thought, solved the prob- 
lem in those four words. 

" You don't ! Oh, don't you ? You are 
an unbelieving Jew ; but I suppose you will 
believe your own eyes — look here ! " and out 
of her sister's pocket comes a crumpled 
note, which she holds out, so that the 
invalid can read the few words written on 
the sheet without the precious document 
leaving Dottie's own hands. She cannot 
trust Pussie with it entirely, but she lets 
her read for herself. 

" Dear Miss Dottie, 

" If you are doing nothing this afternoon, will you 
come to the glen about three o'clock. I have an important 
question that I am very anxious to ask you, and I have 
no chance of seeing you alone in the house. 

"Yours, 

"Brian Beresford." 

Pussie's jealous little soul is stirred within 
her. 



A WANDERING STAR. 79 

''And you think he is going to propose 
to you, Miss Dottie, do you ? " she asks, 
shrilly. '' But let me tell you that he won't. 
No ! not if you had twenty new hats on ! — 
Not if you were in a desert island alone with 
him for the rest of your days ! " 

'' All right, Pussie, don't excite yourself 
about it ! " says Dottie, who can afford to 
laugh. '' He won't then ! Who ever said 
he would ? Not I, at any rate. But, mind 
you, Pussie, it's me he wants to see, and not 
you. Well, I must be off, for I don't want 
to keep him waiting, so good-bye," — and 
Dottie dashes from the room, pursued by 
shrieks from Pussie to shut the door, a 
request of which she takes no notice, and 
which it does not enter her head for an 
instant that she should turn back and obey. 

Dottie has never kept a tryst before, for 
the simple reason that no one has ever had 
any particular desire to meet her anywhere ; 
had she been so bidden, she would assuredly 
have been held back by no far-fetched ideas 
of propriety. She has an hereditary bias to 
stray; indeed her feet would almost carry her 



8o A WANDERING STAR. 

of themselves down any path they should not 
tread ; but she is saved by what has saved 
so many — she has never been tempted 1 
No wonder, then, that, with such a disposi- 
tlon to roam, she feels indeed fluttered, and 
her heart beats as she steals — almost os- 
tentatiously — out of the house, and runs 
down the glen to meet the man who has 
always been her type of manly beauty, and 
who has often, little as he is aware of it, 
figured as the hero of her waking and sleep- 
ing dreams. 

She does not in her heart of hearts 
imagine he is going to propose to her, 
though she had not quite pooh-poohed the 
notion when her sister had taxed her with 
the mad idea ; but she is overjoyed that at 
least he has asked her to meet him, and the 
thought makes her bound and curvet along 
the narrow path in a manner a good deal 
resembling the pranks and gambols of a 
frisky young elephant. 

Poor Dottle would indeed have been 
crestfallen could she have known how hard 
Brian finds it to suppress a laugh when she 



A WANDERING STAR. 8 1 

appears on the scene. As so often happens, 
her efforts at adornment had not been 
crowned with success ; the Paris hat, with its 
waving plumes — which would have looked 
loud, and eccentric on the head of some 
leader of fashion on the beach of a gay 
watering-place where gaudy dressing was 
the order of the day — contrasts in the most 
comical manner with the rest of the girl's 
apparel, and makes the mangy fur coat, 
which has already done yeoman's service, and 
the shabby and ill-hung skirt appear worse 
than they need have looked had the head- 
gear not been quite so ambitious ! Dottie's 
highly-coloured face under the rainbow-hued 
hat becomes almost purple with excitement 
as she comes up to Beresford, who is wait- 
ing for her on the rustic bridge that spans 
the Con, a sluggish stream which is wider 
than a brook, but not important enough to 
be dignified by the name of river. 

" Dottie, my dear," he says, taking her 
hand as she nears him — and there is a fra- 
ternal ring in his voice which disappoints 
her, and knocks on the head her unacknow- 

VOL. III. G 



82 A WANDERING STAR. 

ledged hope that a more tender feeHng had 
prompted him to ask her to meet him — '' it is 
very good of you to come and meet me here. 
Thank you very much, dear. You see I am 
very anxious to have a talk with you about 
something. You know what it is at Con- 
holt ; I never set eyes on you, or, if I do, you 
and Pussie are sitting side by side, hke two 
prisoners out on ticket-of-leave. Not much 
chance of getting a word with you alone, 
which is what I want now." 

Dottie, alas ! sees that she must give up 
all idea of ever so mild a flirtation on her 
own account, but, failing that, she takes a 
certain amount of pride in thinking that 
Brian wants help of some kind from her, and 
she is ready and willing to give it if she can. 
Her black eyes look up quite honestly into 
his handsome face, and her voice has a true 
ring as she says, — 

*' I don't know what you want me to tell 
you, Brian, but if I can help you in any way 
I will." 

" That's right, Dottie. I know you will be 
straight with me, and that is all I want," 



A WANDERING STAR. S^ 

answers Brian, as the two stand side by side, 
leanlne over the wooden rail of the rustic 
bridge, their eyes fixed on the dark waters 
that flow slowly and almost without a mur- 
mur under their feet. '' I want to ask you 
a fair question. It is one that Vega says 
you are able to answer, and it is one which 
concerns me very deeply. She has been told 
some lies about me ; she has heard that I 
laughed at her, made fun of her, held her up 
to ridicule to — your mother and Lady Julia; 
that I betrayed her, as she calls it, and calls 
it rightly, were I capable of anything so low. 
I may have many faults, but I have never 
been accused of beino; false before. Now I 
want to find out what it all means, and she 
says you can tell me. The whole business 
is imagined to have taken place about the 
time of the masked ball — the very night of 
it, for all I know." 

" I will tell you all I know about it, 
Brian, as Vega wishes me to do so, for I 
was mixed up in the business, though it is 
only quite lately it has dawned on me that 
they used me to carry out their own ends. 

G 2 



84 A WANDERING STAR. 

The very day after that ball I was told I 
was to go out driving with the Mums and 
Aunt Ju. This surprised me at the time, I 
remember, for they are not particularly 
anxious for my company In general. How- 
ever, I went, and then they began talking 
over the ball, abusing all the women, and 
laughing at everybody. You know how 
they talk — every one, I mean, not Aunt Ju 
and the Mums alone. Then they began to 
speak about you, and the Mums told Bijou 
a long story about some mysterious black 
domino you had danced all night with. Aunt 
Ju got scarlet, and she looked furious, and 
then the Mums told her that she needn't 
mind, for you had told her yourself that this 
unknown lady was horrible, though she was 
very pretty, otherwise you couldn't have 
stood her. The Mums said that, try as you 
liked, you declared that you couldn't shake 
her off — that you had danced with her, and 
taken her to supper, and then she had made 
you go and sit with her in the rose-garden 
till you felt you would have given anything 
in the world to be able to get away. 



A WANDERING STAR. S^ 

" I remember the very words the Mums 
used — ' Brian says, 'he is glad that marble 
dancing-girl in your garden, Julia, can tell 
no tales, for even he was shocked at the 
conduct of his companion."' The Mums 
and Aunt Julia said a good deal more that I 
don't remember ; and they did not whisper, 
as they usually do when we are about. 
They didn't seem to care whether I heard or 
not. It was very unlike them to let nie 
hear anything they didn't want me to knew 
The Mums always has her wits about her, 
and so has Bijou, except when she is in a 
rage, when she will say the first thing that 
comes into her head. I can't make it out ; 
and I have thought, now and then, that they 
must have been talking a^ me all the time, 
and that it was to let me hear it all that they 
took me out drivinof with them. I believe 
they made a tool of me, and that I tumbled 
headlong into the trap. If I didn't think it 
was so, I swear to you, Brian, that you 
should never have heard a word of this from 
me. As it was, I did what I expect they 
intended me to do. I went home, and told 



S6 A WANDERING STAR. 

all they had said to Vega, and I believe I 
nearly killed her by doing so. It is a long 
time ago now ; but I remember the look 
that came into her face when I repeated the 
story to her and Pussie. She was looking 
so happy and so lovely as 1 came into the 
school room that I was quite struck by it. 
Her face had that angelic expression that it 
used sometimes to have when she first came 
to us. I haven't seen her look like that for 
a long time now. Well, I dashed in, full of 
all I had heard, thinking I should astonish 
them with what I had to tell, and began at 
once. Vega never said a word all the time 
— no, not even when I had finished ; and I 
turned round in surprise and looked at her. 
She hadn't one bit of colour in her face, and 
I thought she was going to faint, but she 
seemed to recover herself after a minute or 
two ; and then she looked at me, and, after 
that look, I didn't need to be told what it all 
meant — that it was Vega herself Avho had 
been disguised, and Vega who had shocked 
and astonished even you by her extra- 
ordinary conduct. It was hard to believe 



A WANDERING STAR. Sj 

then ; and I may tell you that I didn't 
believe it for long. As sure as I am 
standing here, I know I was taken in 
somehow ; though how, or for what reason, 
I don't exactly understand." 

Dottie has told her story without drawing 
breath, and without any Interruption on the 
part of her companion. He does not even 
speak when she has done ; and he keeps 
silence for so long that the girl grows quite 
oppressed by It. 

Everything is curiously still around them. 
From the winter woods come no sound : all 
is dull and lifeless — withered branches and 
dead leaves ; while the water that glides 
between sedgy banks and mossy stones 
flows on, black and shining, without a 
murmur. At the bend of the river a 
watchful heron looks as if It were cut out of 
wood, and no other living thing Is to be seen 
or heard. A grey mist Is creeping up, the 
valley and making everything damp, dank, 
and sodden. The short January day will 
soon be done, and the little light there is 
will go suddenly. But Brian sees nothing — 



SS A WANDERING STAR. 

hears nothing ; and but one thought fills his 
mind, to the exclusion of all else. 

It Is that Vega. — his little \'ega — the girl 
whom he adored — should believe that he 
had slandered her — lied about her foully — 
and on the very nlcrht when she had so 
Innocently trusted him — when they had 
been happier than he, at least, ever was, 
before or since. 

Brian knows that she loved him then, 
and he now knows that, proud and hlgh- 
splrlted and sensitive as she Is, it was 
no wonder that, In the first revulsion of 
feeling, she should have taken the only 
step that seemed open to her to give the 
lie to his words. 

On his head would be all the unhappiness 
that must be the result of such an Impossible 
marrlao^e as the one Into which she had been 
practically forced — but, no ! not on his head, 
but on the heads of those who had plotted 
against them both. He sees her as Dottle 
describes her — with her lovely face looking 
like an angel's : that was before the blow 
had fallen ; and then he thinks of the 



A WANDERING STAR. 89 

change that came over her after she heard 
that he was unworthy. 

And what had she done — what had either 
of them done to be so tortured ? What had 
Lady Hermlone to gain by her machina- 
tions ? Lady Julia's motives he can under- 
stand better — "jealousy is cruel as the 
grave" — but Lady Hermione, who only 
plays for her own hand, who would only 
help her own sister for ''value received" — 
how can it have furthered any plans of 
hers ? 

One thing only is certain — Vega has been 
the victim : it is his happiness and hers 
that they have wrecked between them ; and 
he leans his head on his hands, and Dottie 
hears him murmur, "Oh, my little Vega! 
my lost Vega ! " 

It is a bitter moment for Brian. Even 
when he believed Vega to be heartless, and 
to have sold herself for money and position, 
he had loved her in spite of himself : how 
much more now that he knows her to be an 
innocent victim, sacrificed by those unscru- 
pulous sisters with as little compunction as 



90 A WANDERING STAR. 

one might brush away a fly, or trample the 
life out of a worm. 

His blood boils ; and it is all the harder 
for him that he feels his hands are prac- 
tically tied at present. He cannot tell 
Dottie what he thinks of her mother's evil 
deeds : he cannot make her the judge of 
Lady Julia's actions. 

But he turns, at last, to his companion. 

*' We have been pretty badly used among 
them all," he says, trying, but vainly, to 
make his voice sound like his own, and to 
speak in steady, even tones, ''and I don't 
think there is much more mischief left for 
them to do. I needn't tell you, Dottie, that 
I am innocent. You wouldn't be here, I 
know, my child, if you thought me such a 
brute as they tried to make me out. But 
you must understand clearly that not one 
word of their story is true — not one syllable. 
I never had the conversation that they 
credited me with — it Is all invention, pure 
and simple, from beginning to end. You 
must tell that to Vega when you go to stay 
with her — but, no ! you needn't do so. She 



A WANDERING STAR. 9 1 

must hear it from my own lips. One word 
more, my dear, before we part. I believe 
you are a real good sort, Dottie, though you 
haven't the credit of it. Well, I beg of you, 
as the greatest favour I can ask you, if ever 
you see poor Vega in need of a helping 
hand, that you will hold out yours ; and if 
you think that any one is trying to do her 
harm, that you will do your best to outwit 
them. 

"You are clever and sharp, and some day 
you might have it in your power to save 
her from a danger that one can't foresee now. 
She is more friendless than any one I know. 
Promise me that you will stand her friend, 
Dottie." 

For all answer Dottie holds out her hand 
in its shabby dogskin glove. Brian takes 
it in his, and then, as if to make the promise 
more binding still, he kisses her quietly on 
the lips. Even she cannot think that there 
is anything lover-like in that kiss ; it is the 
ratification of a solemn bond between them, 
and as such she considers it. 

It is nearly dark as she and Beresford 



92 A WANDERING STAR. 

walk Up the glen on their road home, and 
the mist that seems actually to rise out of 
the ground on all sides of them wraps up 
everything in Its grey mantle. Here and 
there the black trunk of some leafless tree 
stands out, though blurred and indistinct in 
outline ; but the river is only a streak of 
mist, and its opposite banks are effaced 
altogether. The damp night air strikes chill 
and unwholesome ; the gayest might feel de- 
pressed by the heaviness of the atmosphere, 
but Brian walks as if in a dream. He 
vStrldes along, and his companion, who has 
some trouble in keeping up with him at all, 
does not care to break the current of his 
sorrowful thoughts. He Is for the time 
being forgetful of everything but " what 
might have been ; " of all reflections as- 
suredly the most bitter, and he hardly knows 
what he Is about or whither he goes. 

He certainly does not hear the sound of 
footsteps coming along the path in his direc- 
tion ; but Dottle — who has the ear of a red 
Indian and the eye of a hawk, and who, like 
the animals who have only their own wits to 



A WANDERING STAR. 93 

depend on, Is always on the alert — catches 
not only the first footfall, but also spies 
between the trees, where the path takes a 
sudden bend, the tall figure of a woman, 
which the instinct of self-preservation at 
once points out must be either her mother 
or Lady Julia. 

There is no time to be lost if Dottie 
wishes to avoid an encounter with one or 
other of them ; but she has not been obliged 
to look out for herself for so long without 
being ready for most emergencies. " Brian," 
she says, hurriedly, " here's some one coming. 
It's the Mums, I think ; and I will be so 
badgered if I am found out at this hour with 
you that I think I had better be off. Don't 
mind me ; I would know my way through 
these woods blindfolded." 

He has hardly time to follow her hasty 
speech, and the words she quickly jerks out 
are barely out of her mouth, before the girl 
plunges down the hill, following one of those 
narrow tracks that always seem mysteriously 
to run through large woods, and Is lost 
to sight among the tangle of brambles and 



94 A WANDERING STAR. 

bracken and lady-fern which grows nearly 
as high as herself. If she wishes to elude 
observation she has not a minute in hand, 
for the withered bracken has hardly snapped 
beneath her feet before Beresford finds him- 
self face to face with Lady Hermione. The 
lady may not have any particular motive for 
wandering in the glen so late ; it may have 
been accident that has brought her thither ; 
at the same time, she generally has a reason 
for everything, and blind chance seldom 
directs her footsteps ! 

But she is active as few other women are 
active, though her dearest friends laugh as 
they assert that the laudable wish to keep 
her beautiful and still youthful figure ac- 
counts for a good deal of her love for the 
open air, and her zeal for long country 
walks. It is impossible to say what her 
motive is for being afoot so late to-night, 
and Brian does not try to discover. 

*' Brian! — you here of all people!" says 
her ladyship, mirthfully, as the two stand 
face to face in the narrow path. *' I wonder 
what brings you to the glen at this hour, 



A WANDERING STAR. 95 

and what you have been up to. You have 
something on hand, my dear boy, or I am 
very much mistaken. You wern't alone a 
minute ago, that's certain. I heard voices, and 
I saw a woman's figure — rdternal feminin 
— one can never get beyond it ; but I can't 
think what you have done with your com- 
panion. I don't beheve a cat could get 
through this brushwood. Well, she's gone, 
that's the chief thing, and I am quite sure 
you won't tell me who she is ! " 

Lady Hermione's remark is ill-timed ; 
Brian's eye flashes. '' You may be quite 
sure of that. Lady Hermione," he answers, 
bitterly. " You have been so kind as to 
interfere with me and my affairs enough as 
it is. I owe yoLi a debt, whether of gratitude 
or not I leave you to judge ! " 

"You are talking in riddles, Brian!" re- 
turns her ladyship, lightly laying her slim 
fingers on his arm as she speaks. The 
action seems half fun, half friendliness on her 
part, but it is ill received, for he shakes, off 
her hand angrily. ''You are so highflown 
to-night I can't pretend to follow you, and 



96 A WANDERING STAR. 

one really can't discuss Impossible subjects 
in a thick fog. Come, be a good boy, and 
be pleasant. I will walk home with you, and 
you shall tell me all the news. It Is tempt- 
ing Providence to stand talking here In this 
horrible mist," and the slim, graceful woman 
affects to shiver as she draws scanty furs 
closer round her slender throat. " Come on, 
come on ! " 

''By all means, if you will have It so,'* 
returns Brian grimly, as they walk side by 
side along the narrow path, '' for I have a 
question or two to ask you, and there Is no 
time like the present. Answer me fairly. 
Lady Hermione, if you can. Why did you 
try to poison Vega FItzpatrIck s mind against 
me ? What was your motive for meddling In 
the matter at all ? I know all the details of 
the business, and all you said and did. I will 
spare you them, but I am devoured with 
curiosity on one point : What reason had 
you ? You are a clever woman, and there Is 
reason In all you do ! What was It in this 
case ? " 

Reason ! She had reason enough for all 



A WANDERING STAR. 97 

she had done ! Does gratified spite count 
for nothing ? Is it not wise and prudent to 
look ahead and oust a rival before she 
becomes too dangerous, and friendly to help, 
as far as possible, her sister's desperate 
efforts to keep her lover, if it can be 
done at no cost to herself but the triflinof 
sacrifice of honour, and justice, and 
truth ? 

Was it not money that tempted Judas to 
betray his Master ; and was he the last who 
took the price of blood ? 

What about the cheque that had passed 
hands between the sisters ? and had not Lady 
Hermione won her bet fairly ? 

She is the last woman to forget the many 
motives she had for wishing to get rid of the 
beautiful friendless girl, whose presence at 
Conholt angered her, and who might possibly 
have clashed with her own interest and 
plans. 

All is fair in love or war to a woman of 
Lady Hermione's stamp, and she does not 
regret ; on the contrary, she rejoices in all she 
has done. 

VOL. in. H 



qS a wandering star. 

'' How tragic you are, Brian," says her 
ladyship, In tones of ahiiost exaggerated care- 
lessness, as she swings along at his side, her 
step as light and elastic as If she was seven- 
teen. Her weight of sins do not oppress 
her physically, and her conviction that 
Beresford has found her out. In one of them 
at least, sits lightly on her also ; ''and about 
such a trifle ! Why, my dear boy, the reason 
is pretty evident. We — Julia and your 
humble servant — did 3^ou the best turn you 
ever had done you In your life when we put 
a stop to all that folly between you and Miss 
Vega. I don't deny that we helped on the 
Mossop marriage, and I am not ashamed of 
saying so. I call It a real good action ; and 
I only wish every penniless girl could find a 
rich, good-natured husband as easily as she 
did. She ought to be the happiest woman 
in Blankshire, and when I think of who and 
what she was, I am simply surprised that 
things have turned out as well for her as they 
have." 

'' And In your school I suppose that love 
counts for nothing ? " asks Brian bitterly. 



A WANDERING STAR. 99 

** In Strict confidence, I must confess that 
I don't think it counts for much," answers 
Lady Hermione, with cynical frankness. 
*' When it does, I have invariably found that 
by every law, human and divine, it ought not 
to exist at all. ' The light loves in the 
portals ' have a curious way of frequently 
outlasting more serious affections. In plain 
words, I don't think the love that is blessed by 
the Church stands the test of time particularly 
well. I am sure it hardly ever does when 
there is no money to make things pleasant 
all round. There is a good deal of friction 
about a family coach : the wheels must be 
well greased if it is to run at all smoothly. 
At its best it is but a cumbrous, old-fashioned 
machine, and one that a good many people 
would give their eyes to get out of if they 
could only manage it. You are silent, Brian ! 
You are mad because you were not allowed 
to make a fool of yourself, and that 'we 
married Vega to a rich vulgarian instead of 
to a poor gentleman ; but you are still in the 
* twenties,' my dear boy ! Young blood runs 
hot, and the day will come when you will 

H 2 



lOO A WANDERING STAR. 

know what we have saved you both from. 
Who should be a better judge than I ? I 
married a pauper, for love, if you choose to 
call it by that name, and was miserable in 
consequence, and I am certain so was he. 
Of one thing you may rest assured — a state 
of poverty is not a state of grace ! " 

Lady Hermione talks glibly, and with all 
the assurance of one who knows her subject, 
and certainly a better guide to all the mean- 
nesses, shifts, and sordid expedients incum- 
bent on a gilded pauper could not be 
found. 

Her talk, however, has but little effect on 
her hearer. She cannot throw enough dust in 
his eyes to blind him to her conduct. He 
had always heartily disliked her, and now 
he positively hates her ; but he feels that 
reproaches, arguments, are thrown away on 
such a woman. She laughs at the mischief 
she has done, and takes high ground when 
he taxes her with it. She is wiser ; she is 
older; she has gone through the mill herself; 
she has saved him from certain misery ; he 
will be grateful in time ! 



A WANDERING STAR. 101 

That time is a long way off, and in the 
meantime he will leave her to her own con- 
science, if it is possible to believe she is 
possessed of one ! 



I02 A WANDERING STAR. 



CHAPTER IV. 

" Life is mostly froth and bubble, 
Two things stand like stone : 
Kindness in another's trouble ; 
Courage in your own." 

" Oh ! it is too delightful to be here with 
you, Vega! Just fancy, I might at this 
moment have been in the schoolroom at 
Conholt. Pussie Is there, I suppose, doubled 
over the fire, as usual, reading one of the 
Bow Bell's Novelettes. Don't you know how 
she looks ? You haven't forgotten our ghastly 
evenings up there, have you ? Thank 
heavens, I shan't be back for the next day 
or two, at any rate ! One does feel different 
here," and Dottle, whose material little mind 
does not often run on any thing beyond 
mere physical comfort and well-being, nestles 
among the velvet cushions of the Inglenook 



A WANDERING STAR. IO3 

in the entrance hall of The Towers with an 
air of actual happiness. 

She has just been sent over from Conholt 
to pay her long-talked-of visit there, and 
she and Vega are alone, for though it is six 
o'clock Mr. Mossop and Charley are not 
yet back from hunting. Dottie is certainly 
a most satisfactory guest, for she is pleased 
with everything — she is glad to be again 
with Vega, and to have her to herself just 
now — but she enjoys to the full the warmth 
of the great logs blazing on the hearth, the 
comfort of her snug corner, and also, it must 
be confessed, she appreciates the thick cream 
in her tea, the hot cakes, the muffins, and all 
the good things to which she helps herself 
with such a liberal hand ! 

The life of privation in the midst of 
plenty, to which she and Pussie have been 
condemned all their lives, has by no means 
fostered Spartan tastes in her. On . the 
contrary, she is luxurious and greedy, and 
fine clothes, good food, even warm and 
luxurious rooms, make her positively 
happy 1 



104 A WANDERING STAR. 

She Is radiant ; she thinks of the Conholt 
schoolroom with contempt, and of Pussle as 
a kind of poor relation, trying to blink the 
fact that she will be back to them both In 
a week at latest ; but she Is the typical 
beggar on horseback, and means to enjoy 
to the full the goods the gods have provided 
in the meantime. 

Vega, who got accustomed to the girl's 
ways a long time ago, and who since Dottle 
had softened to her has become quite fond 
of her, is delighted as she looks at her and 
sees the broad smile that illumines her 
usually sulky, beetle-browed countenance. 

" Oh ! Dottle," she says merrily, '' it seems 
like old times to see your face again. I am 
so glad they let you come over to us." 

''It was a near thing," says Dottle, her 
mouth full of muffin; "but the Mums 
couldn't resist the temptation of getting rid 
of me for a week, otherwise I shouldn't 
have been here now. She was mad with 
me about something or other. She didn't 
tell me In so many words what it was, but 
J can guess as wdl as the Mums herself. 



A WANDERING STAR, IO5 

■when it comes to guessing, though it's 
wonderful how a straw can show her how 
the wind blows. She Is clever ! Even the 

fact of my wearing Pussle's hat " but 

here Dottle breaks off abruptly. 

''What about Pussle's hat?" asks Vega, 
laughing. Dottle's chatter makes her feel 
younger than she has done for long. 

"Oh! nothing, nothing," says the other, 
hastily, opening out a fresh subject with a 
certain amount of craft. 

" Now," says Vega, after the girls have 
talked for some time, and Dottle has nearly 
cleared the board, " I want you to come up 
to your room with me, Dottle. You may 
come down again before dinner if you like, 
but I want to show you something up there." 
So they run up the fine oak staircase, and 
along softly carpeted corridors, whose walls 
are hung with dingy portraits of men in 
armour, and of men In wigs, of ladles in 
alarmingly low cut dresses, and of simpering 
family groups, all of whom do duty as Mr. 
Mossop's ancestors, till they come to a 
pretty little room, which looks all blue 



I06 A WANDERING STAR. 

forget-me-nots and pink roses, and where a 
warm fire Is burning brightly. 

*'0h! how delightful," says Dottle, with 
a sigh of rapture. " Oh ! Vega ! do you 
remember our bedrooms at Conholt," and 
she shudders as she thinks of their 
dreariness ; '^ but what Is all this ? " she 
asks, as she makes one of her well-known 
bounds in the direction of the dressing- 
table ; '' who do all these lovely things 
belong to ? " 

She takes up first a blue velvet case, in 
which reposes a pretty little watch, set in a 
bracelet, and her eyes glitter. " Why ! this is 
fit for a queen," and then she seizes an old 
paste waist-buckle — a buckle such as she has 
longed for vainly, and wished for loudly, for 
the I'ast two years at least. 

" Oh ! how lovely, and what a sash," as 
she unfolds some broad pale blue ribbon, 
and then seizes a satin sachet full of the 
daintiest of handkerchiefs. 

There Is even a beautifully arranged spray 
of gardenias and maidenhair lying beside 
the other things. 



A WANDERING STAR. lO/ 

''What does all this mean? You have 
brought me to the wrong room, Vega. 
Who do all these lovely things belong 

to : 

"All to you, Dottle," answers the other, 
feeling almost for the first time since her 
marriage that riches can really give her a 
certain amount of pleasure. 

" For me ! " repeats the other. " Oh ! 
no! not for me," and Dottie hurls her- 
self on her companion's neck, and there 
are tears in her eyes as she speaks her 
thanks. *' I am not accustomed to pre- 
sents," she says at last, as if to excuse 
her unusual outburst of feeling. "You 
know no one but Uncle Regie ever brings 
us presents, and it is a sad fact, but 
quite true, that a man somehow never 
gives one quite what one wants. We 
have had plenty of boxes of chocolate in 
our day from the young men who come 
to Conholt, but they were not what we 
call free-will offerings ; they were a kind 
of tribute paid to Aunt Julia, and though 
we were very glad to get them, they 



I08 A WANDERING STAR. 

never pleased us very much ; but these 

things . Oh ! Vega ! you have tried to 

think what I would like. You really have 
wanted to give me pleasure. It is too 
sweet of you," and once more she leaps 
up at her companion's face, and covers it 
with grateful kisses. 

There is nothing to be done downstairs, 
so Vega lingers with Dottie while the latter 
unpacks her scanty stock of clothes. It 
amuses her to see her visitor as she shakes 
out the folds of her oft-washed white muslin 
frock, and tries the effect of the new blue 
sash on it. She is like a child with a new 
toy : she slips it on, she drags it off, she pins, 
ties, pulls and pats it, till she has the broad 
ends of ribbon to her liking, and then like a 
miser, who visits his hoards In succession, 
she turns her attention to her buckle. She 
puts it on a ribbon, which she girds round 
her sturdy waist, and, her arms being bare, 
the pretty curb chain bracelet, with Its tiny 
enamelled watch, must be tried on next ; for- 
tunately Dottle's arms are her strong point, 
and really pretty and well-shaped, though on 



A WANDERING STAR. IO9 

rather too large a scale, so she Is delighted 
with the effect of the ornament that looks 
so well, and clings so tightly. She dashes 
about the room in the highest spirits, and 
when finally she sinks into a luxurious arm- 
chair in front of the blazlnof fire with her 
new toys on her knee, and the huge satin 
sachet on the table at her elbow, waitlnof Its 
turn of inspection, she feels her cup of bliss 
is full ! 

'• How late they are out," says Vega, 
at last, referring to her husband and her 
sister-in-law. " The meet was a long way 
off to-day, but I have never seen them as 
late as this before. I hope nothing has 
happened." 

There Is a certain amount of concern in 
the tone In which she speaks, but no great 
anxiety. It would never occur to her to be 
anxious about her husband, and as for Miss 
Mossop, she knows she Is able to take- un- 
commonly good care of herself. 

There Is a pause ; Vega listens with a 
certain amount of eagerness for the sound 
of wheels, and Dottle, lulled In luxurious 



no A WANDERING STAR. 

repose, Is lazily watching the fire and her 
companion alternately. She has actually 
held her peace for a good many minutes^ 
when she at last breaks the silence with a 
question. 

** Tell me, Vega, have you seen Brian 
Beresford lately ? " 

The words make her start, and as Dottle 
looks at her the small face changes colour, 
the warm blood mounts to her cheeks, dyeing 
them rosy red and though she turns hastily 
away, the sharp eyes of the other catches 
the troubled expression of her lovely eyes 
in the glass above the mantelpiece. The 
mere mention of the beloved name agitates 
her now-a-days, and Dottie sees it. 

Vega need give no account of herself to 
any one, but it does not enter her head to 
prevaricate, or to leave the question un- 
answered. 

" Yes," she answers in a low tone, and 
she shakes just a little ; "he was over here 
yesterday." 

After a minute or two Dottie continues : 

** Then you know all ! No, no ! I am not 



A WANDERING STAR. I 1 1 

going to speak about it, you poor darling 
I only wish to ask you one question — just 
one — about myself. You don't blame me 
for my share in the business ? You know I 
was only a tool in their hands ? " 

*' Blame you, Dottie ! " answers Vega, 
firmly. ''No, indeed ! You were just a puppet 
like all the rest of us ; they moved us about 
and pulled the strings to suit themselves. 
Yoii' were their mouthpiece, / was the victim 
• — Brian and I," and her voice breaks a little, 
*' that was the only difference. I am glad I 
know the truth now, at any rate. I am quite 
as unhappy as I was, but I don't feel so bitter 
as I have done for a lono- time. It seemed 
till yesterday as if every one was against me. 
It is a kind of consolation, though a poor 
one, to think that he suffered, too, or rather, 
that he wasn't false and wicked as they tried 
to make out. That hurt me more than any- 
thing else ; but that's over, now. It won't 
stand being talked about, though — we won't 
speak of it again, Dottie. It is bad enough 
to be always thinking about it — there they 
are," she adds, as she catches the sound of 



112 A WANDERING STAR. 

wheels on the gravel. *' I suppose I ought 
to go down and see what they have been 
about." 

Vega leaves her guest, and runs down- 
stairs, reachuig the entrance hall as the 
brother and sister enter the house. 

Miss Mossop's face falls as she sees her, 
but Mr. Mossop seems almost unreasonably 
elated, and his wife looks at him, filled with 
surprise. He is never a very dignified or 
imposing figure, but it must be confessed 
that his appearance to-night is positively 
grotesque, and Vega hardly knows whether 
to laugh or to blush as they meet. 

His red coat, boots, and breeches are 
splashed with mud to such an extent as to 
warrant the belief that he has ridden through 
a horse-pond, and his face has not escaped 
either, for a large spot of brown clay on one 
cheek gives him a rakish expression, which 
a scratch down the nose, on which the blood 
has dried, does not diminish, while his hat, 
which has been rained on and dried, and 
rained on again, is rough as the coat of a 
curly dog. 



A WANDERING STAR. II3 

The tolls and perils of the chase may 
account for all these casualties, but surely 
not for a leer in the eye, a scarlet counten- 
ance, a thickness of speech, and a disposition 
to fall foul of all the rugs and footstools in 
the hall, which he looks on in the light of 
so many man-traps, and kicks accordingly. 

" Hullo ! Mrs. Mossop," is his greeting, 
as he holds out both hands effusively to her. 
" Here are the poor, weary fox-hunters back 
at last ! Rather in a mess, too, ain't we ? 
But all in the day's work, and hard work, 
too, it is — 'unting, 'unting, 'unting, from 
morning to night — but it's good for one, 
that's the thing. It's good for one. What 
does the song say, 

" ' Better to 'unt the fields for 'ealth unbought, 
Than fee the doctor for his nasteous drough.' 

'' nauseous draft, or whatever the rubbish is. 
What does it matter ? They both rhyme. 
And what's your news, Mrs. M. ? You're 
not looking very chirpy — about as lively as 
a dying duck in a thunderstorm ! It doesn't 
raise one's spirits much to come home to 

VOL. III. I 



114 A WANDERING STAR. 

you. If you only did as Charley and I do, 
now ! I should like to see you ' 'unt the 
fields for 'ealth unbought.' You'd be a long 
sight better company ! " 

Vega can hardly believe her ears as she 
listens to this tirade. Her husband seems 
thoroughly transformed, and she does not 
know what to make of the change. Where 
has his dignity, his Importance, his pomposity 
gone ? Where Is the fussy formality that 
distinguishes him In general ? The string of 
polite questions he usually asks, and the in- 
formation that he Imparts with so much 
unction on his return from hunting ? Above 
all, where are some of his h's o^one, and 
why have others perversely attached them- 
selves to words which would be better with- 
out such an unnecessary addition ? 

Vega makes no answer, for the simple 
reason that she can find nothing to say ; see- 
ing which Mr. Mossop grows slightly 
Irritated. 

'' You're sulky now, I suppose ? Look 
at her, Charley," says Mr. Mossop, gloomily 
putting his hand on his sister's arm, as much 



A WANDERING STAR. I 1 5 

to Steady himself as to draw her attention to 
his wife's shortcomings; ''she's angry be- 
cause I told her she was about as lively to 
come home to as a mute at a funeral. She 
could mend if she liked, but she won't. 
Women are queer cattle, and I don't know 
but what one ain't better without them 
altogether." 

"Do be quiet, Albert," says his sister, 
interrupting his involved ramblings, but 
encouraging him to keep a firm hold of her 
strong arm. " You are talking utter nonsense, 
and the sooner you stop and go upstairs to 
dress the better. My dear Vega, if you 
will run up first, we will follow at a more 
discreet pace. Albert is very — tired," she 
adds, telling her harmless white lie wi'tfh 
a crestfallen air, knowing, as she well does, 
that it would not deceive the merest child. 

For no one could be blind to the fact that 
Mr. Mossop is utterly, hopelessly, screwed, 
and that that state is fatal to the thin coating 
of veneer that has made him a kind of imita- 
tion of a gentleman, and to which he has 
attained with so much difficulty. 

I 2 



I I 6 A WANDERING STAR. 

In vino Veritas, with a vengeance, as 
far as he Is concerned. He has gone back 
with a bound to the manners that were quite 
o-ood enouQfh for him when he was "our 
Mr. Albert" In his youthful days at the 
brewery. 

It Is hard enough for him not to revert to 
them, now and then. In his sober moments ; 
It Is Impossible when he has not his wits 
about him. 

Poor Miss Charley Is terribly distressed, 
and perhaps more so than If such 
scenes were common and she were Inured 
and hardened to them ; but his greatest 
enemy could not accuse Mr. Mossop of 
being a drunkard, or even of habitually 
drinking more than was good for him. He 
falls now and then at long Intervals, that is 
all, and generally under circumstances that 
his devoted sister tried to make herself 
believe are extenuating. To-day it is the 
bitter weather, the absence of sport, a hos- 
pitable farmhouse, where orange brandy 
was pressed on all comers, and a late and 
uproarious luncheon at the ''George," at 



A WANDERING STAR. I I J 

Grimthorpe, when hunting was given up for 
the day. 

Not more than a dozen times in so 
many years has I\Ir. Mossop succumbed so 
thoroughly, and half that number of times 
at least has Miss Charley been at hand to 
take care of him, to put as good a face 
on the misadventure as possible, and to 
hush it up as much as she can. She 
now, as ever, stands his friend. Uncon- 
sciously to herself, she always looks on 
him far more as her brother than as 
Veo^a's husband. 

Veofa is so younor — she has become one of 
themselves so lately — in fact, it is only in 
name, as Miss Mossop well knows, that she 
is one of them at all — and the superiority of 
the wife's claims over the sister's cannot in 
this instance be called paramount. She 
wishes now to spare the young girl, and take 
the whole burden on her own shoulders', and 
she wishes above all to hide the shortcomings 
of the brother who she has known for so 
many years to be thoroughly good-hearted 
and good-natured, though the outside world 



I I S A WANDERING STAR. 

can only see that he Is vulgar, pretentious, 
and pushing. 

When they meet again at dinner Mr, 
Mossop seems steadied down a little, and 
though Vega looks with frightened eyes in 
his direction everything goes smoothly 
enough ; but she does not get the pleasure 
out of Dottie's improved appearance and 
evident self-satisfaction that she had looked 
forward to, — Dottle, who, thanks to her, 
looks quite smart and freshened up, and who 
positively bridles as she looks down at the 
broad, pale-blue folds of silk that relieve the 
meagre plainness of her one and only even- 
ing frock, and at the lovely flowers that were 
so charmingly arranged for her by Vega her- 
self. This peaceful state of matters does 
not, however, last long. It seems to Miss 
Mossop s watchful eye as if the champagne 
went round even oftener than usual, and that 
her brother's glass Is no sooner filled than It 
Is emptied. As his spirits rise, so do hers 
fall, and before dinner Is over, Vega herself, 
pale and mute at the head of the table, Is 
not more disturbed than she. 



A WANDERING STAR. II9 

'' I never saw such a lot in my life." says 
Mr. Mossop, hilariously. His face is flushed, 
and his hand shakes as he conveys what he 
calls a " whitewash " to his lips. 

They have fortunately got to the end of 
dinner ; dessert is on the table ; the servants 
are out of the room, with the exception of 
the "chief butler," who is still circling round, 
Dottie is half way through a mountain of ice 
— pink and white — which she has heaped on 
her plate, and the others are counting the 
minutes that she is likely to take over it. 

*' You, Vega, always were poor company! " 
he Q^oes on. *'You never had a word to 
throw to a dog, let alone your humble 
servant. But you, Miss Dottie, I thought 
you had some spunk about you. You had 
to be mum enough at Conholt ; but I used to 
see a devil in your eye when we were set 
down to play halma together. That was 
mamma's doing, wasn't it ? " And here his 
mirth o-ets the better of him, and some of 
the old brown sherry trickles from the glass, 
held in his unsteady hand, on to the bulging 
shirt-front that shines as if it were enamelled. 



120 A WANDERING STAR. 

''But Miss Vega there came along, and 
upset all her plans. I daresay she's sorry 
enough for It now," looking down the table 
in Vega's direction ; " not satisfied, and all 
that kind of thing. We're not good enough 
for the likes of her, I suppose ! Well ! who 
ever said that we were ? Lord Hautalne 
isn't 7ny uncle, and / haven't a lot of swells 
for my first cousins ; but I don't like being 
looked down on for all that." 

''Albert, what utter nonsense you are 
talking ! " says his sister, authoritatively. 
"You don't deserve any more of our society 
if you go on like this. Vega, don't you 
think we really might depart, and leave the 
gentleman to his own devices ? You are 
tired, Albert, dead tired. Why don't you 
go to the smoking-room and have forty 
winks before you come up ? " 

Let that plan only be acted on, and Miss 
Mossop knows full well that such a sleep 
would last till bedtime, and would certainly 
be undisturbed as far as they were concerned. 
But she reckons without her host. 

" You are a good woman, Charley," he 



A AVAXDERIXG STAR. 12 1 

says, patronizingly, ** but you always were 
too fond of shoving in your oar when it 
wasn't wanted. You like to run the whole 
show yourself ; but you shan't get rid of me 
so easily ! This young lady doesn't want to 
get rid of me, at any rate, do you, Miss 
Dottie ? You don't like a hen pie, or I'm 
very much mistaken. Tell the truth, you'd 
a deal rather talk to a man than to a woman, 
wouldn't you, now ? " 

Dottle, who is nothing if not sharp, has 
grasped the situation long ago ; she only 
makes one mistake, and that is, that she 
jumps to the conclusion that similar scenes 
occur every night. 

She does not shrink away in disgust like 
Vega : she is cast in a coarser, stronger 
mould altogether, and there is a decided 
want of refinement in her disposition ; but for 
all that she feels a good deal afraid of Mr. 
Mossop to-night, and she actually puts down 
her spoon, leaving some rich creamy remains 
of pineapple ice on her plate unfinished in 
her anxiety to be ready the instant the 
"route" is given. She mumbles some in- 



122 A WANDERING STAR. 

distinct answer to Mr. Mossop's absurd 
question, which he takes in the affirmative. 
*' Of course you do," he says, with a pro- 
nounced wink. ''You're all alike, after all, 
and I only wish we had a nice young man 
for you here now, my dear. Who can we 
get hold of for to-morrow night ? You 
whisper in my ear the name of your fancy 
man. Miss Dottle, and if he's in this part of 
the world I will send over a note to him in 
the morning. Oh ! I have it ! Brian Beres- 
ford ! He's the man ! All the young ladles 
are In love with Brian Beresford ! Let's 
get him here for Miss Dottle. What do 
you say to that happy thought, Mrs. 
Mossop ? " 

Mrs. Mossop Is spared all the trouble of 
answering, for her sister-in-law pushes back 
her chair with a great deal of determination, 
and she finds herself following the others 
out of the room before It is settled if Brian 
Is to be asked to The Towers or not *' to 
amuse Dottle." 

There is peace — a hollow peace — for a 
time, while the three ladles sit, or work, or 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 23 

do nothing in the long gallery, but it lasts 
too long, and like many another lull, it only 
means mischief. Mr. Mossop arrives on the 
scene in the end, and it is painfully evident 
that the '' whitewash " before mentioned has 
not been his last. The jovial stage seems 
past, and his mood is now quarrelsome and 
cantankerous. He flings himself down on 
the huge gilded and satin-decked sofa at the 
side of his trembling wife, who too evidently 
shrinks away from him. 

*' One would think I had the plague ! " he 
says irritably. " What's the matter with you ? 
I am not going to eat you. I can't under- 
stand you, Mrs. M., and never could. You 
sit there looking as glum as glum ! It would 
make any one think you were ill-used, and 
yet ' I load 3'ou with my benefits,' as the 
hymn says. You're spoiled, that's what it 
is. You get everything and you give 
nothing." 

Vega turns scarlet as her husband utters 
his coarse insulting words. It is almost as if 
she had received a blow with the open hand 
on the face, but she has learnt the lesson of 



124 A WANDERING STAR. 

self-command In an even harder school than 
this, and she says nothing, though she winces 
as she thinks of the listeners, and of Dottle 
in particular, who with wide open eyes Is 
taking In everything. 

Mr. Mossop is not so far gone as to be 
insensible to the effect of his words on his 
wife. 

'' HIghty-tlghty," says he with an unsuc- 
cessful effort to turn It all into a joke ; " so 
I've said the wrong thing again ; putting my 
foot in it as usual ; but you can't take a joke, 
Mrs. M. ; that's what It Is ! You're so stiff 
and formal ; there's no bend about you at all ; 
that's where you make the mistake ; there's 
no bend about you," repeats Mr. Mossop, 
delighted with this new word. *' It's ' Yes, 
Mr. Mossop,' and 'No, Mr. Mossop,' when 
you forget, and when you don't It's ' Yes, 
Albert,' and ' No, Albert,' but there's no 
heart in it. The words are just dragged out 
of you, and I should like to know what harm 
poor Albert has ever done you that he should 
be always kept at a distance ? " Mr. Mossop 
resumes his aggrieved tone. " I can't see 



A WANDERING STAR. I 25 

what you've got to complain of for my part. 
I can't see It ; can't s'h'ee It. I say, you 
there," he calls out to one of the footmen, 
who Is skirmishing about after empty coffee 
cups, "bring me a brandy and soda as quick as 

you like : and don't drown the B with the 

soda." His eyes Involuntarily turn to his sister, 
who Is sitting bolt upright, watchful, and with 
all her wits about her. '' Oh, yes, Miss 
Charley ; you may frown, and come the 
governess over me as much as you like, but 
I mean to be master in my own house all the 
same. It's all very well to say that this is 
the drawing-room ; it may be twenty drawing- 
rooms for all I care. If I am thirsty, I am 
not aware that there is any law to prevent 
my having something to drink here. Any- 
how, I want none of your interference ! Vega, 
my dear, your good health," as he seizes the 
tumbler in his hand. ''You shouldn't bear 
malice. Where no offence Is meant none 
need be taken. Take a taste of it ; it'll put 
some colour into your white cheeks." He 
comes nearer her, and shows a disposition to 
put his arm round her slim waist ; but this is 



126 A WANDERING STAR. 

more than she can stand, and even Mr. 
Mossop cannot help seeing her aversion and 
disgust as she shrinks from his touch. It Is 
written In her pale face, her troubled eyes, 
her frightened air, and It not unnaturally ex- 
asperates him. " D you ! " he shouts, 

losing the little command over himself he 
still possesses; "do you think I am going 
to put up with any more of your airs and 
graces ? You do as I tell you, madam ! " He 
holds the glass right In front of her so that 
she cannot move, and tries to hold It steadily, 
but his hand shakes, or perhaps the poor child 
In her anxiety to get away from him touches 
his arm ; anyhow, the tumbler slips from his 
fingers, and crashes down on the floor, 
drenching her white dress with the strong, — 
the very strong — contents. Vega starts to her 
feet ; surely she need stand no more now ; 
surely he has Insulted her enough ; the tum- 
bler lies in fragments on the parquet floor — 
the whole place seems reeking of brandy, 
and she dashes from the room leaving her 
husband to lament with a maudlin laugh the 
loss of so much good liquor ! 



A WANDERING STAR. 12/ 

"It is time for us to go now," says Miss 
Mossop, in a very determined tone to Dottie ; 
but after she has conveyed the girl to the 
pretty pink and blue nest that Vega had 
tried to make so pretty for her the good 
sister returns once more to the gallery, and 
it is on her faithful arm that Mr. Mossop 
leans as he lurches along its slippery floor, 
and zig-zags up corridors that finally bring 
him to his own room. 



128 A WANDERING STAR. 



CHAPTER V. 

" Oh ! had I wist, afore I kiss'd, 

That love had been sae ill to win, 
I had locked my heart in a kist o' gowd 
And prinned it wi' a siller prin." 

When Vega stands at the hall-door the 
next afternoon and sees Brian Beresford 
coming towards her, galloping his horse 
across the park, she rejoices greatly, and she 
does not think that it may be a real mis- 
fortune that he should have chosen this very 
day for his visit. In the first place, she and 
Dottie are alone ; there is no watchful, wise, 
sensible Miss Charley to note with clear- 
sighted eyes the turn that things are taking, 
or to break in with loud, hearty, commonplace 
voice on whispers that seem to say so much 
less, but are so much more dangerous than 
her straightforward, cheery remarks. But 



A WANDERING STAR. I 29 

IMiss Charley and Mr. Mossop are once more 
out himtlnor. She had not Intended dolnir 
so, but the poor man was so crest-fallen — so 
utterly humble — and, above all, so dependent 
on her for moral support, that she had not 
the heart to desert him, so to-day again she 
pursues the fox, and he skirts. 

He is abject ; he is almost broken-down ; 
he knows that he has made an utter fool of 
himself; he w^ould repent in sackcloth and 
ashes if he could. 

He — usually so full of conceit and swagger 
— seems to have lost his self-respect entirely ; 
he cannot look his wife or " Miss Dottie " 
in the face. He does not even care to 
catch the butler's eye ; he is ill at ease, 
awkward, and nervous ; he has but his 
sister to cling to, and he does it with all his 
might. 

She, w^ho believes, or determines to believe, 
in extenuating circumstances, does her best 
to console him, and fights his battles man- 
fully in his absence. 

There is no use in trying to believe that 
Dottie did not take in last night's scene, and 

VOL. III. K 



130 A WANDERING STAR. 

Miss Mossop does not even attempt to 
hoodwink her, but tells her the plain truth, 
which, it must be owned, Dottle feels at 
liberty to doubt. 

''If you think it is my brother's habit to 
oehave as he did last night," says Miss 
Charley to the girl, before the horses come 
round to the door, " I can only say that you 
are very much mistaken, and for Vega's 
sake, I hope, my dear Miss Langton, that 
you will keep all that occurred last night to 
yourself No one has ever said, or ever could 
say, that Albert was a drunkard. Few men 
are more sober than he as a rule. I give 
you my word that yesterday was an excep- 
tion." 

Dottie, somewhat naturally, takes this 
statement with a grain of salt. She knows 
Miss Mossop's devotion to her brother, and 
she, who has seldom seen people stick at a 
lie to forward some unworthy end, firmly 
believes that Miss Mossop is equally un- 
scrupulous when the object chances to be a 
good one. The school in which the girl has 
been brought up is such a detestable one 



A WANDERING STAR. 131 

that it is no wonder that her ideas of right 
and wrong are somewhat confused. 

It is no wonder either that, when she finds 
herself alone for some minutes with Brian, 
she forgets poor Miss Charley's request and 
her own glib and easy-spoken promises, and 
gives him a highly-coloured version of the 
whole business. 

It is indeed coloured out of all likeness to 
the reality, for whereas Mr. Mossop, at the 
worst, was only coarse and vulgar, she gives 
Beresford the impression that the woman — 
the hem of whose garment he thinks Mr. 
Mossop is unworthy to kiss — has been 
deeply insulted by him. The incident of 
the broken tumbler lends itself well to 
description also, and does not lose in the 
telling. 

Dottie does not exactly mean to deceive 
or mislead, and she has certainly no dislike 
to Mr. INIossop, but she cannot resist loading 
her canvas with the most violent colours, and 
making a regular sensation picture of it. 
She likes the importance of telling her tale to 
Brian as much as she likes the idea of 

K 2 



132 A WANDERING STAR. 

having a secret In common with him. He, 
on his side, Is filled with wrath — a righteous 
anger, no doubt, though perhaps It may result 
in adding fuel to the flame of a love that is 
by no means righteous. It Is hard that the 
story should be told to him now. He had 
meant to walk so straight ; he had promised 
himself to be the best friend Vega ever had ; 
he had sworn, as far as in him lay, never by 
word, or deed, to try to bring back the past. 
He certainly was going to attempt the 
impossible — but to attempt it In all good 
faith. He had been' madly in love with her, 
and now he meant to be her friend alone ; 
he was going to attempt a descent on which 
every foot Is bound to slip, and where the most 
steady must lose his head. Such had been 
the task he had set before himself, and it would 
have been hard enough to carry out, at any 
time, Heaven knows ; but now, when to love 
is added pity — sorrow for the child who has 
fallen into such rough, rude hands — over- 
powering, overmastering compassion for the 
woman who has been insulted — the burden 
is more than he can bear. 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 33 

He dees not speak to Vega about the 
events of last night, and no v;ord of his 
conveys that he has any knowledge of what 
took place, but she knows that he has been 
told as certainly as if he said so — knows it 
by his steady avoidance of her husband's 
name, as well as by the sympathy she 
reads in his eyes, and feels in the warm 
grasp of his hand. 

As for Yeea, she is as one transformed in 
his presence, she feels as if she had no more 
trouble, for she forgets them all ; when she 
walks beside him it is as if her feet were 
treading on air ; when he speaks to her, her 
heart bounds — when his ardent eyes meet 
hers, she has no thought of anything else. 
She is no longer dull, or sad, or weary, nor 
does she brood over the tragic troubles of 
her past, or the more petty griefs of the 
present time. Everything is swallowed up 
in the sweet madness that has seized her. 

She has entered the enchanted valley, 
down which most of us walk once in our 
lives, and the glamour of fairyland is over 
all. 



134 A WANDERING STAR. 

Pity that the end of the valley is so 
quickly reached, and that the magic light 
fades so soon. 

There is no going back ; we may not re- 
trace our steps ; there are no more enchanted 
valleys in the desert through which we must 
toil wearily till the end comes, and the rain- 
bow light — whose hues are called youth, and 
love, and joy — fades away as suddenly as it 
came ; but just at the beginning the flowers 
of the valley are so sweet, the air so soft, and 
the light so heavenly, that no wonder those 
who first set foot in it are dazzled, and 
believe that Paradise has indeed come. 

Sorrow has been Vega's lot so far; but she 
seems now to have left it far behind her, and 
young as she is, she does not take in or 
understand that her duty is rather to cling to 
it, and to accept sadness, and weariness, and 
all that makes life dreary and burdensome, 
as her appointed portion. She does not 
realize that she has no right to be happy — 
no right to turn to Brian — no right to any- 
thing but the love, the close companionship, 
the unending communion of a Mr. Mossop. 



A WANDERING STAR. I 35 

She has always been the victim of circum- 
stances, and everything seems now to com- 
bine to send her on the wrong road. No 
doubt it would have been far better 
had she gone on believing that Brian 
had been false to her ; it was a pity that 
she should know, when too late, that never 
— never for a moment — had his love for 
her wavered, and that it was the machina- 
tions of her enemies alone that had parted 
them. It was unfortunate also that any 
feeble liking, or gratitude, or respect, that 
she had done her best to cultivate for Mr. 
Mossop, should have received such a rude 
shock at this very time. She seems now to 
feel as if she had a sort of right to shrink 
from him. How can she honour, far less love, 
the stupid, half-intoxicated creature who, 
with flushed face, shaking hands, and 
loosened tongue, had talked to her so 
brutally, and insulted her so deeply, only last 

night ? 

To be sure, he was not accountable for 
his words, and he meant nothing when his 
tumbler fell from his feeble grasp on her lap, 



136 A WANDERING STAR. 

deluging her with the potent stream. She Is 
even ready to forgive him, and will try to 
forget the whole scene as far as possible ; 
but how can she help drawing a contrast 
between the man whom she calls lord and 
master and Brian — handsome, chlvaVous 
Brian — who would die to protect her from 
an Insult that the other had not scrupled to 
offer her ? She Is but a weak girl, and 
though prudence, duty, even virtue itself, 
forbids It, she cannot but turn to her old 
love from her lawful husband. 

Too much seems to be expected by the 
world from its victims, and Its punishments 
fall somewhat indiscriminately. In the 
pitiful little tragedy, of which poor, friend- 
less Vega is the principal figure, the finger 
of scorn will never be pointed at the real 
sinners. Lady Julia and her sister will lead 
charmed lives, as far as Immunity from 
blame goes ; but let the feet of their victim 
but once stray, though ever so slightly, 
from the narrow path in which she has been 
forced to walk, and she will be driven back 
ruthlessly, or, more probable still, be 



A WANDERING STAR. I 37 

hounded to utter destruction. Will one 
voice in a hundred be raised to excuse or 
pity ? Will one plea for mercy be urged ? 
Will one of those who have laid too heavy 
a burden on such slender shoulders own 
to even an error in judgment ? Will 
they not rather pass by on the other 
side, shuddering — or affecting to shudder 
— over faults, errors, weaknesses, which 
they do their best to magnify into 
sins ? 

But Vega does not look forward to the 
dark future, which, to her, as to us all, will 
come but too quickly. The joyful days of 
youth are still hers, and her eyes are still 
gladdened by the light. 

All she knows is, that she has suddenly 
grown strangely, over-poweringly happy ; 
that the clouds that have darkened her 
whole life have cleared away as if by ma^ic ; 
and that sadness and sorrow seem far away 
from her. 

It may be but a fool's paradise in which 
she is living, but no one need grudge it her : 
the halcyon days will come to an end all too 



138 A WANDERING STAR. 

soon ; and even now a keen eye might see 
the beginning of the end. 

But Vega's step is Hght ; her voice has a 
ring of joy in It that sometimes surprises 
even herself. She and Dottle are merry. 
They laugh and talk as Vega, at any rate, 
has not done since the early days of her 
childhood — before her eyes were opened to 
the troubles of her life. Her life now 
seems a dream of alternate hope and happi- 
ness ; for it is only those blessed moments 
when she and Brian are tosfether that she 
feels she really lives — the rest of her time is 
spent in looking forward. 

Everything seems to have righted itself 
all at once, as far as she is concerned — at 
any rate, everything seems easier for her 
now. She sees but little of her hus- 
band ; for he, urged by Miss Charley, and 
more resigned to the horrors of hunting, 
now that the end of the season Is within a 
measurable distance, hardly misses a day. 
She and Dottle are consequently left almost 
entirely alone. But, Heaven be praised ! 
there Is another in the same condition ! 



A WANDERING STAE. • ^39 

" j\Iy host is a very good fellow, but, 
unfortunately, there is no horse in his stable 
for me to ride," says Brian to the two girls, 
as if to explain or excuse his constant 
appearance at The Towers. "He rides 
sixteen stone, and has only a couple of 
weight-carriers, which he means to keep 
religiously for himself Anyhow, I w^ouldn't 
deprive him of one of those slow and sure 
conveyances for the world ; the consequence 
is, I am left to my own devices all day long 
every hunting-day. I have carte blanche to 
slay rabbits ; but that palls upon one in the 
end, and if you are not tired of me yet, I 
like a great deal better coming over here in 
the afternoon to see what you are all 
about." 

It does not seem to strike any of them 
that there is no particular reason why such a 
popular and much-sought-after man should 
prolong his visit at a dull house, where there 
is practically nothing for him to do. A life 
of solitude and rabbit-shooting is not exactly 
in Brian's line ; and the owner of the 
weight-carriers is not a very lively com 



140 A WANDERING STAR. 

panion. It is no doubt more to the purpose 
that he is not more than two miles from The 
Towers, and that he seems to know by 
instinct the direction of Mrs. Mossop's after- 
noon walks. He is not very eager to go to 
The Towers itself, nor is there any cut-and- 
dried plan of meeting at any time ; but the 
two girls, as they saunter through the 
woods, or go farther afield, are pretty certain 
that he will join them. It all seems so 
natural : the greatest stickler for propriety 
could surely find nothing to object to in 
those walks, at which Dottie always, or 
almost always, makes a third. 

But if they are quite so harmless, why are 
Brian and Vega both so absurdly happy as 
they pace along side by side ? Is it the 
chill breeze of February alone that brings 
the lovely colour to her cheek ? Is the 
prospect around them so very enlivening, 
and are leafless trees, bare plantations, grey 
pastures, that look as if they would never 
be green again, and damp and sodden paths, 
calculated in themselves to raise the spirits ? 
It surely must be so ; for day by day the 



A WANDERING STAR. 141 

walks seem to lengthen as the days them- 
selves grow longer. Vega's light feet never 
seem to tire ; and when she parts from 
Brian in the twilight it is to go home to 
dream of the moment when they will meet 
again, and once more tread those enchanted 
fields that, to the ordinary eye, look so bleak 
and desolate. 

The proverb that lookers-on see most of a 
game is true, however, in this instance, as 
in so many others ; and the blindness — or 
wilful blindness — of those who play is not 
shared by those who stand around and 
watch every move and keep a vigilant score. 

Beresford's eyes are blinded by passion ; 
the bright sunshine of happiness dazzles 
Vega ; while Dottie, who has watched 
intrigue, deception, and double-dealing from 
her cradle, has grown short-sighted, and her 
vision is but dim and uncertain. But there 
is a court of justice near at hand that is as 
all seeing as Justice should be, and it is a 
court from which there is no appeal ; for 
those who are on their trial before it are 
ignorant that they have been arraigned at 



14^ A WANDERING STAR. 

any bar, and they can neither defend them- 
selves, nor does any one plead for them. 
This veJini gericJit is composed of those who 
eat our bread, who live under our roof, who 
are always with us, if not of us, and who try 
us in the balance, and, as a rule, find us 
wantlnof ! The servants' hall and the house- 
keeper's room at The Towers have been 
informed of those walks of their young 
mistress. They know their length, their 
direction. They have assisted In some 
mysterious way at those moments when 
Brian and Vega have parted in the twi- 
light ; they have noticed the brightness that 
has come into her lovely face of late ; the 
happy tones of her voice have struck them — 
and they have drawn their own conclusions. 

There Is a directness about those con- 
clusions that is positively startling ! The 
trumpet of the downstairs regions gives 
forth no 'uncertain blast, for the boundary 
line that separates vice from virtue is with 
them hard and fast, and one which may not 
be tampered with for a moment. Mercy 
means weakness, and no one can afford to 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 43 

err on the side of leniency. There are also 
other reasons which, from their point of 
view, dispose them to be hard on Vega. It 
is not that they dIsHke her — it would be 
hard Indeed to dislike the charming, lovely 
girl — but, in their own words, " she came to 
master without a penny to bless herself with, 
and she ouo^ht to be crrateful indeed for the 
good home he has given her. She was a 
mere nobody, for her father was one of that 
low lot of English who live by their wits in 
foreign parts, and though they do say as 
how her mother had something to do with 
Lord Hautalne, much good has she ever got 
from him or from that old skin-flint his wife 
either ! No, no ! if old Mossop hadn't taken 
pity on her, where would she be now ? for 
Mrs. Titmass, at Conholt, tells me that her 
ladyship there wouldn't have kept her much 
longer — why, she'd have been earning her 
wages like us by this time as a governess, 
more like than not ; and as for the young 
spark who dangles after her now, if he had 
been so fond of her as he makes believe, 
why didn't he come forward before ? " 



144 A WANDERING STAR. 

Such Is the verdict, or something very like 
it, that is passed by those who make It their 
business to find out everything. With one 
consent they determine to keep their eyes 
open and to form themselves into a band of 
unpaid detectives, who are expected to bring 
every tittle of evidence they can scrape 
together to be sifted in full conclave. 

But Is the word passed round by them to 
other self-constituted courts, or do the birds 
of air carry the secret ? If not, how can the 
rapidity with which any story of this kind 
Is circulated be accounted for ? 

It seems but yesterday since Brian Beres- 
ford went to stay at The Grange, and now 
every one is laughing at the length of his 
visit there. The possibility of his finding 
quiet, combined with rabbit-shooting, at all 
to his taste. Is considered an excellent joke 
by every one, and "pretty Mrs. Mossop " Is 
mentioned with a laugh as the real ** word of 
the enigma." All the men agree that he 
shows his taste ; the older ones declare that 
they would have done the same a few years 
ago, and Insinuate that no woman ever 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 45 

resisted them when they were in their prime. 
The young men laugh, look mysterious, and 
imply that they could have been as success- 
ful as Brian himself " 'an they would." As 
for the leading ladies of Blankshire, they 
have, thanks to Lady Hermione, the story, 
or rather her version of it, at their fingers* 
ends. The w^ord seems to have been passed 
from Conholt that Mrs. Mossop's flirtation 
with Beresford is perfectly disgraceful, and 
it has spread like wildfire. 

A good many of them remember that 
they had always said there was something 
queer about Mrs. Mossop, and that her 
behaviour at the hunt ball had thoroughly 
opened their eyes to the sort of person she 
was. 

"What can you expect?" asks Lady 
Hautaine, solemnly, of her lord, after she 
has repeated and amplified the news she had 
received in strict confidence from Lady Her- 
mione. The latter lady had driven over to 
Hautaine Castle ostensibly to receive orders 
on Primrose League business from its high 
priestess, in the person of Lady Hautaine, 

VOL. III. L 



146 A WANDERING STAR. 

but in reality to pour Into her ears an 
imaginary story, which she called ^* the 
scandal at The Towers." 

Lady Hermlone has not forgotten her 
walk with Brian up the glen, or the hard 
words he said to her then ; and he must be 
punished as well as Vega. 

As for Lady Hautaine, she has her own 
ends to gain by enlarging on their mis- 
demeanours to her husband, as well as to all 
those to whom she condescends to speak 
at all. 

In the first place, if there is a soft corner 
in the machine that does duty for her heart, 
it is reserved for her lord and master, and 
she knows that he has always borne her a 
kind of grudge for her determined resolution 
never to have anything to do with the girl 
he would always speak of as '' Mary's 
child." 

He has never been quite able to forget- 
though it is such an old story now that it 
hardly seems a reality at all — that there 
had been days when he and his merry little 
sister had romped and played as children in 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 47 

the Hautalne nurseries, had ridden ponies 
together, together had dug their small gar- 
dens, and had wandered hand In hand under 
the great trees of the home park. Hautalne 
Castle was then as much her home as his, 
hard as It seems to believe that now, or to 
think that the broken-hearted woman, who 
has so long slept In a neglected grave In the 
Dieppe cemetery, had started In the race of 
life with as fair a chance as himself. He does 
not often think of such things ; but when he 
does he never falls to blame — not himself — 
but his strong-minded wife, for her steady 
refusal to have anything to do with Vega, 
who she always mentions In a tone of con- 
tempt as that " FItzpatrIck girl." Nothing, 
however. In Lord Hautalne's eyes, has ever 
been worth a fight with his wife, for above 
all things he loves, and has always loved, a 
quiet life, and he has not attempted for 
years to cross swords with her. 

She Is clever and he Is just a little foolish, 
and she h always right and she always lets 
him know It. No wonder that, as she tells 
him now of Vesta's enormities, she cannot 

L 2 



148 A WANDERING STAR. 

resist, adding, " I told you so ! I hear, on 
excellent authority," she goes on, '' that her 
behaviour is a positive scandal, and that 
vulgar man, her husband, is, they say, the 
only person who doesn't see it. This un- 
principled Mr. Brian Beresford seems to have 
taken up his quarters altogether in that part 
of the country, and they are said to have 
secret meetings every day. The whole 
place is ringing with the story, and the 
general idea is that she will elope with him 
in the end. I cannot say I feel surprised. 
She has bad blood in her veins. What can 
you expect from a daughter of Ralph Fitz- 
patrick ? " 

Lady Hautalne's dictum is a good speci- 
men of the line adopted by most of the 
Mrs. Grundy s of Blankshire, who would 
have been surprised indeed had they realized 
that it Is Lady Hermione, of all people, 
who has spurred them on, and if some of 
the younger and gentler among them ven- 
tured to express some pity for the girl, and 
to wonder if things really are as bad as they 
are made out, they are silenced by the 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 49 

question as to whether they approve of 
a young married woman having clandes 
tine meetings with a man who evidently 
her husband will not allow Inside his 
doors ? 

Dottle's visit to The Towers has been 
lengthened out to a fortnight, and It Is only 
the day before the one named for her return 
to Conholt that a note Is sent over In hot 
haste from that place. It Is brought to the 
girl In the early morning before she Is out of 
bed, and as she reads her mother's words, and 
looks round at the many tokens of Vega's 
kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity that 
her eye rests on, she tears up the note 
viciously. " It's a shame — a beastly shame — 
that's what It Is ! " she says In her usual strong 
language, and certainly no one knows that 
better than herself, for she has enough of 
her mother In her to be able to read 
between the lines all the hatred, spite, 
and malice combined with the determi- 
nation to get as much out of her enemy 
as possible, that Lady Hermlone has put 
there. 



150 A WANDERING STAR. 

" Dear Dottie," 

So the letter runs : " I am greatly distressed that 
I have allowed you to remain so long at The Towers. 
It is most unfortunate that you should have made such a 
stay under the roof of a woman so much talked about as 
your hostess is, and has been for some time past. I 
cannot exactly blame myself, for I could not have be- 
lieved it possible that she would have been so bold, or 
that even she would have flirted as audaciously as she 
appears to have done. (Oh, Lady Hermione !) I feel 
certain that, badly as Beresford seems to have behaved 
in this business, she has run after him in the most bare- 
faced fashion. All I can now do is, to get you home as 
quickly as possible, for neither your aunt nor myself 
will hear of your being an hour longer at The Towers than 
is absolutely necessary. Make Vega send you to Grira- 
thorpe to catch the morning train, if she can't send you 

over the whole way. 

'•' Yours ever, 

" H. Langton." 

" But what Is the meaning of your sudden 
departure, Dottie ? " Inquires her hostess, as 
the other. In an awkward and shame-faced 
manner, announces her return that very morn- 
ing to Conholt. *' Have you tired of us all of 
a sudden, or are you filled with a burning 
desire to get back to that dreadful old school- 
room ? Perhaps you think you ought not to 
have left Pussie in the lurch so long ; but I 



A WANDERING STAR. I5I 

thought we had settled to make It up to 
Pussie in some other way. Oh ! dont go ! 
Dottle, I shall miss you so very much." 

" Will you Indeed, Vega ? " cries the other 
girl, dashing up to her, and throwing he' 
sturdy arms round Vega's slim, slender body. 
" I do believe you are the only person In the 
world who would or could say as much ; and 
yet I used to be so nasty to you, and to be so 
jealous and envious of you. I was such a beast 
to you, and yet you have utterly forgiven me, 
and are nicer to me than any one ever was, 
or ever will be again — I would give my eyes 
to stay on here, but what could I say to the 
Mums ? She coimnands me to go back to 
Conholt at once, and I don't dare to disobey 
her. She and Bijou would nearly kill me If 
I didn't do as they told me." 

''And what Is their motive for wishing 
your society all of a sudden } " asks Vega, 
laughing. ** In my day at Conholt the less 
they saw of us the better pleased they were. 
Do you remember the black looks we 
always got when we went into the drawing- 
room uninvited, and how we used to tremble 



152 A WANDERING STAR. 

behind the door when we were expected, 
and when we had to march in like convicts, 
with our eyes on the ground, treading on one 
another's heels in our fright ? What do they 
want to do with you, and why can't you stay 
till to-morrow, at any rate ? " 

Dottie Langton seems to take stock of 
her companion — she looks into her sweet, 
almost childish face ; she meets the gentle 
glance of her lovely blue eyes ; and then she 
thinks of the dreadful words in Lady Her- 
mlone's letter, and of the expressions in it 
that seem so utterly impossible that any one 
could use about Vega. Vega bold ! Vega 
audacious ! such an accusation is absurd ; but 
it makes her blood boil when she thinks of 
the injustice of it all. Her face grows 
scarlet, her eyes lighten, her sudden likeness 
to Lady Julia becomes quite startling, and 
Vega looks at her in wonder and surprise. 

''Dottie," she says at last, "what is the 
secret ? There is some reason for this 
sudden recall. Don't you think I ought to 
know it ? " 

" Yes ! you should, you should, Vega ! " 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 53 

sobs the Other, hot tears coursing down her 
red cheeks. " They will be mad with me for 
telling you, but I don't care. They say, 
Vega " — she looks Into Vega's innocent face, 
and she stops — she can't get on — she has 
plenty of assurance in general, but she can't 
find the heart to insult one whose accusers 
can only judge others by themselves. She 
falls to weeping, and her tears are as much 
tears of rage as of compassion. " Oh ! 
Vega," she says at last, and her words, 
choked by sobs, might sound as if they had 
nothing to do with the subject on hand, did 
Veo^a not read betw^een the lines as the other 
speaks, " I r/ius^ go back to Conholt ; there 
is no help for it, and I beg of you not to 
have anything to do with Brian Beresford 
when I am gone." 

There is a pause for a minute or two, and 
then Vega, with her face quite colourless even 
to the lips, makes answer, — " I understand it 
all, Dottle : I think I have only two friends 
in the whole world — you and Brian — and 
they want to take you both away from me. 
They won't let you stay with me any longer — 



154 A WANDERING STAR. 

and Brian " and her voice breaks as 

she speaks the beloved name — '' I suppose I 
shall lose him, too ! " 

** Never! Vega," says Dottie, fervently, 
catching one of the girl's trembling hands in 
her own. '' Strong as they are, they will never 
be able to manacre that. We — he and I — 
are your friends for ever. All the same, you 
mustn't give people a chance of talking 
about you. Do you remember all the dreadful 
things the Mums and Bijou used to say 
about people ? They mustn't be allowed to 
talk about you like that — you mustn't give 
them anything to take hold of You must 
be wise, darling." 

'^ Am I to show my wisdom by giving up 
the only pleasure I have now-a-days ? " asks 
Vega, with a forced smile. "It would be 
rather hard, wouldn't it, Dottie ? " 

" Shall I tell you what Brian himself 
made me promise him quite a short time 
ago ?" asks Dottie. "He asked me to swear 
that if ever I saw you in need of a helping 
hand that I would hold out mine to you. 
He told me that I was clever and sharp. 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 55 

and might some day have It in my power 
to save you from some danger or other. 
He said you were more friendless than any- 
one he knew, and that I must stand by 
you whatever happened. I made him a 
solemn promise that I would do so, and 
I believe I am keeping my word now. 
It Is very strange that the danger should 
be caused by him, but I can't help that. 
What I have got to do is to warn 3^ou 
now. Doiit meet Brian again — It is dan- 
gerous ! " 

''So I must give up that too!" answers 
Vega, in a dreary voice. " All our merry 
walks over ; all the good time we have had, 
we three, together — It all ends to-day. 
There was not so much harm In It, after 
all, I think, Dottle, or perhaps there was, 
only I didn't know it. We were to have 
met Brian this afternoon again, and now you 
will be gone, and I shall meet him alone. 
No, no ! Dottle, don't be alarmed ! I imtst 
see him once again, and he will under- 
stand when I tell him it must be for the last 
time." 



156 A WANDERING STAR. 

But does Brian understand it as clearly 
as all that ? Does he accept her decision 
— so undecidedly spoken — without a mur- 
mur ? When he sees her pitiful face and 
her sweet eyes drowned In tears, and 
when he takes her trembling hand in his, 
does he bow to the wisdom of her words ? 
Does he acknowledge the justice of the 
laws that govern society? — laws "framed 
to make women false," — or will he tell 
her that, when two people love as they 
do, they may well be a law unto them- 
selves ? 

To be young, to be madly In love, and 
at the same time to be abnormally wise, is 
a rare combination Indeed : to Brian, at least, 
it is impossible. He knows nothing, feels 
nothing, thinks of nothing but of the girl at 
his side, who tells him she may be standing 
there for the last time : — 

*' To his eye 
There was but one beloved face on earth, 
And that was shining on him." 

Their parting that evening in the dusk 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 57 

does not look like an act of supreme re- 
nunciation, nor is there much wisdom in the 
entreaties that have won in the end a pro- 
mise that there shall be one more meeting 
— one more, and the last. 



1^8 A WANDERING STAR. 



CHAPTER V. 

" It is a curious coincidence," says Mr. 
Mossop, irritably, " that no sooner do I 
propose any plan, make any arrangement for 
your comfort or amusement, or do my very 
best to give you pleasure, than you in- 
variably oppose me. In your eyes, Vega, I 
can do nothing right. Try as I like, I never 
can make out what you want to be at — you 
don't know yourself, I suppose. I am sure 
you look dull and dreary enough when 
Charley and I come back from hunting. You 
never have a word to throw to a dog, let 
alone your poor husband. And now that I 
have ordered posters for the waggonette, 
and have settled that we should all drive 
over together to the hunt breakfast at Hau- 
talne Castle, it's ' Oh no, Albert, please don't 
insist on my going, Albert ! ' Most girls of 



- A WANDERING STAR. 1 59 

your age would be only too glad of the 
outing, let alone the fact that you will be, 
in a measure, at home there. Lord and 
Lady Hautaine being your uncle and aunt, 
will, of course, add to your interest," adds 
Mr. Mossop, pompously, rolling out the 
great names in a tone of positive enjoy- 
ment. 

The three inmates of The Towers are 
making an early breakfast before starting on 
the long drive to Hautaine, as planned by 
Mr. Mossop. He is always more or less 
irritable and snappy on a hunting morning, 
and to-day either his nerves are more shaky 
than usual, or else Vega's unexpected oppo- 
sition to his wishes has thoroughly put him 
out, for he looks ill-tempered and sulky as 
he sits in his red coat at the bottom of the 
table, trying to eat, and succeeding but 
badly, even with the assistance of strongly 
''laced" coffee. Miss Charley needs 'no 
stimulant to enable her to do full justice to 
an excellent breakfast, and looks buxom, 
fresh-coloured, and jovial even at this hour 
of the morning. She fills her riding-habit 



l6o A WANDERING STAR. 

in a very satisfactory manner, and looks an 
excellent specimen . of a healthy, hearty 
Englishwoman. She always makes Vega 
look slimmer and more fragile than ever 
when she Is beside her, and this morning 
she notices that her young sister-ln-law 
Is looking particularly pale and out of 
spirits. 

'' Couldn't you let the child stay at home, 
if she likes it best ? " she asks her brother. 
'' Every one wouldn't care for a long drive on 
such a bitter March morning — wz^/i Lady 
Hautaine at the end of it." And Miss 
Charley smiles a broad smile, for it strikes 
her as extremely comical that her brother 
should have reserved Lady Hautaine for the 
bouquet de la fete as far as Vega Is con- 
cerned. 

'' I don't see what you object to In Lady 
Hautaine," says Mr. Mossop, testily. '' Even 
if you forget the fact that she is a near 
relation of my wife's, I look on her as a lady 
entitled to the highest respect." 

'' Oh, yes, I will respect her as much as 
you like, Albert," returns Miss Mossop, 



A WANDERING STAR. l6l 

laughing, as she demoHshes another egg and 
more bacon. '' She Is certainly the most 
respectable woman of my acquaintance, if 
the frosty smile and two fingers that she 
favours me with when we meet allows me 
to consider her an acquaintance at all. I 
only meant that she has an acquired taste, 
that was all — like olives at dessert, or per- 
haps caviare, or indeed anything that one 
can't be expected to like all at once." 

'' I must request you not to set my wife 
against her aunt," answers Mr. Mossop, 
loftily. " And, all things considered, Vega, 
I insist on your coming over to Hautalne 
this morning." 

Mr. Mossop Is not a very pleasant man to 
oppose once he has set his heart on any- 
thing, for It Is his way to become extremely 
plalnspoken as well as a trifie coarse and 
vulgar when irritated, and Vega has no par- 
ticular desire to hear him discuss the reasons 
which make her shrink from the bare idea of 
forcing herself on relations who have always 
steadily Ignored her. She has already heard 
Lady Hautalne's opinion about herself in 

VOL. III. M 



1 62 A WANDERING STAR. 

pretty plain language : she knows the low 
estimation in which she holds the unfortu- 
nate Mr. Mossop, and she feels she can 
hardly face the ordeal of an encounter with 
the grim dame. But opposition has only the 
effect of making Mr. Mossop the more obsti- 
nate, and pride stops his wife from putting 
the situation clearly before him. Needless 
to say, all is done as he wishes. The long 
cold drive is endured : Hautaine Castle is 
reached : Mr. and Miss Mossop prepare to 
mount their horses, and Vega finds herself 
alone in the waggonette among the crowd of 
vehicles of every size and description that 
fill the great court of the Castle. Everybody 
seems in a bustle, and full of business and 
excitement: red-coated men hurry about, 
looking for their horses, or their grooms, and 
giving hasty greetings to their numerous 

friends. 

A group of them stand on the broad steps 

in front of the great doors ; there is a constant 

stream of sportsmen and sportswomen who 

go in and out of the Castle, and Mr. Mossop 

forms one of them, for he not only wants 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 63 

cherry brandy, and a good deal of It, on this 
cold morning, but he is also eager to set his 
foot inside the portals that have never before 
been thrown open to him. But he is dis- 
appointed that neither his wife nor his sister 
will accompany him ; Miss Charley, indeed, 
laughs at the bare idea, and he well knows 
that when she Is so determined nothing will 
move her. 

" No, thank you, Albert," she says, with 
good-humoured decision ; '' I don't share your 
veneration for Lady Hautaine, and I never 
was fond of beinof either snubbed or 
patronized, so I mean to give her ladyship a 
wide berth ; and pray don't insist on Vega 
going In either if she dislikes it ; it would be 
positively painful to her, I am quite sure. Let 
her do as she likes, Albert ; " this very firmly, 
as '' Albert " shows a disposition almost to use 
bodily force to drag his wife from the carriage 
and to Insist on her entering the Castle, there 
formally to claim relationship with Lord and 
Lady Hautaine. 

He Is, however, always amenable to reason 
when wisdom, in the shape of his sister, 

^r 2 



164. A WANDERING STAR. 

Speaks, being both fond of, and afraid of her ; 
so he desists, but with a very bad grace. 
He looks viciously at Vega. '' It's always 
the same story. You never do anything I 
want you. I wonder what's the good of 
you ? " and stumps sulkily away with the 
air of one w^ho is the victim of ingratitude 
and unkindness. 

Lady Hautaine is at this moment standing 
at an open window, shivering as she surveys 
through her heavy, gold-mounted eye-glasses 
the scene before her. 

" I do believe," she says at last to a group 
of toadies, male and female, who surround 
her, " that that fast, horrid Mrs. Mossop has 
had the audacity to come over here ! There 
she actually is — sitting all alone in that wag- 
gonette ! I suppose people are rather chary 
of speaking to her. I wonder she didn't 
brine that dreadful Mr. Beresford over with 
her — she would have been quite capable 
of it ! " 

A chorus of assent and condemnation 
comes from those whose business it is to 
agree with everything Lady Hautaine says, 



A WANDERING STAR. IO5 

and as the}^ assent and condemn, Lady Julia 
Darner appears on the scene, driving the 
smartest pair of cobs in Blankshire. She is 
a wonderful whip, belonging as she does to 
that modern class of women who seem to 
excel in everything : it is a class that naturally 
is somewhat limited, but not the less recog- 
nized on that account. 

The best coachman in England could not 
manage those spirited horses with greater 
skill in such a crowd of vehicles and horses, 
where there does not look as if there was a 
spare inch of ground ; but her ladyship 
sweeps up to the entrance as if her task was 
a perfectly eas}' one. Many an admiring eye 
follows the brilliant-looking woman, whose 
splendid, though somewhat mature, beauty, 
stands the light of day so well. She fears 
nothing, not even the sunshine, and her bold, 
handsome face looks Its best under the plain 
black riding hat, whose severity would be so 
fatal to so many of her contemporaries. 

As she dashes up, with Lady Hermione, 
haggard but handsome, sitting by her side, 
she catches sight of Vega, alone and 



1 66 A WANDERING STAR. 

apparantly deserted In The Towers wag- 
gonette. 

'' The Lord hath deHvered thee into my 
hand," Is In substance, U not In words, the 
feehng that passes through her cruel mind, 
while Lady Hermlone realizes that the hour 
of revenge has come at last. 

As for Lady Julia, one might as well ex- 
pect mercy from a lioness robbed of her 
whelps ! 

" Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, 
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."" 

The only man for whom In her long life of 
loving Lady Julia has ever felt something 
approaching real passion, and not mere 
desire, has been taken from her, and by that 
pale girl sitting there — a girl, moreover, who 
she has always hated. 

No one knows better than herself that she 
will never get Brian back again — that the fire 
of dead love can never be re-kindled ; but 
she has still one consolation left — Veea at 
least shall not go unpunished. 

Lady Hermlone has prepared the ground ; 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 67 

she always was better at whispering away a 
character than herseh'', and the former's 
meaning looks, inuendoes, and falsehoods, 
have prepared the Blankshire mind for 
anything. 

Lady Julia can now strike, and strike to 
some purpose. 

She pulls up her horses, either by accident 
or design, close to The Towers waggonette 
— the wheels are all but touching. Lady 
Hermione might put out her hand and clasp 
that of the girl who sits there. Everybody is 
looking at those who have newly arrived on 
the scene, and both the sisters know that the 
moment has come. 

Lady Julia turns half round, and as she does 
so she looks at Vega full in the face — looks 
at her haughtily and contemptuously, and 
without one ray of recognition. There is no 
mistake about it — there can be no discussion 
in future on the subject. The cut 'is in- 
tentional, and as such every one acknow- 
ledges it. 

Lady Hermione is looking about her : her 
black, expressive eyes are here, there, and 



1 68 A WANDERING STAR. 

everywhere, but she Is not so bold as her 
sister. She does not cut the girl : she simply 
overlooks her. She does not appear Indeed 
to see her at all, though she knows In some 
mysterious way the look of the poor victim 
when the blow falls, sees her shiver under 
her furs, and remarks how pale the small 
face grows all of a sudden. She sees all this, 
because she would not miss the slo^ht of It for 
the world. Even if Veo^a had never crossed 
her path, never incurred her anger, she 
would still have seen her suffer joyfully, for 
it recalls to her the days when she too had 
to bear the brunt of her sins. In her case, 
she had no Injustice to complain of; Indeed, 
if her misdemeanours had been only a trifle 
less flagrant, she would have got oft" al- 
together ; but this reflection does not make 
her more merciful. 

She turns away at last, as she catches 
sight of Lady Hautalne and her court at 
the open window. She sees from the satis- 
fied expression on the face of that immacu- 
late dame that the scene has not been lost 
on her, and she feels everything is now as it 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 69 

should be, and that it will not be the fault of 
the great lady of the county If Mrs. Mossop 
ever holds up her head In Blankshire again. 

By this time Lady Julia Darner has thrown 
off her great fur-lined coat, has given the 
reins to Lady Hermlone, and, assisted by 
Bertie Vanslttart, who has never failed her 
In his life, and surrounded by two or three 
more red-coated admirers, she proceeds to 
mount the well-bred chestnut that Is to have 
the honour of carrying her, no doubt 
brilliantly, to-day. 

Her sister's attention has been diverted 
from Vega for a few minutes, and when she 
looks round again the waggonette Is gone, 
and Mrs. Mossop is being driven back to 
The Towers. 

Were Vega but a little older, it is possible 
she micrht be able to estimate at their true 
value the insults she has had to endure at 
the hands of her persecutors. The mind 
grows inured to sorrow as the years roll on ; 
it hurts, but the pain is a duller one ; at any 
rate, the end is seen so much more distinctly 
and clearly. But in extreme youth every- 



I/O A WANDERING STAR. 

thing appears Interminable — joy — sorrow — 
life itself, seem as if they would last for 
ever, and if there is more recuperative 
power, there is also less resistance to the 
blow. 

The sorrows of an ordinary life seemed 
lived through In that long solitary drive 
home. The March wind blows cold and 
piercing across the grey fields that lie on 
either side of the road ; there is no ray of 
sunshine ; all is a flat, dull, neutral tint, harsh 
outlines, and cheerless distinctness. 

Such surroundings might tell on the spirits 
of any one — might depress even those who 
are gay and happy. They have no effect on 
Vega — the wind chills her, but she does not 
feel it, and the shrill cry of the curlev/ falls 
unheeded on her ear. 

She feels utterly hopeless — she Is but 
young in years, but she is worn out with the 
uphill fight at last ! She is now beaten, and 
as she reviews her life, she falls to wondering 
vaguely why she should always have been so 
tormented. 

She thinks of her childish and youthful 



A WANDERING STAR. 171 

clays at Dieppe — the struggles — the dire 
poverty — the sense of shame that always 
seemed to hang over herself and her father ; 
the tragic and pitiful death of the man for 
whom no one wept, not even his own child ; 
then she recalls those early days at Conholt, 
when she was ignored, slighted and, at the 
same time, the mark of malicious, though 
petty, persecution. Ah ! stop though ! even 
she had her beattx jotirs there. 

Yes ! she had danced at a certain domino 
ball — had sat in the rose-garden with Brian 
Beresford — had dreamt that dream of love 
and happiness which, to the best of us, is 
never much more than a dream. But then 
there v/as the dreadful awakening to find 
that her lover had betrayed her, laughed at 
her, failed her, and that she had no option 
but to marry a man whom she all but disliked. 
She was penniless, utterly friendless — how 
could she help It ? but for all that she has 
been well punished. Life at The Towers 
has been no bed of roses. Mr. Mossop, as 
a companion, grates on her every hour of the 
day : they have not a thought, not an idea in 



172 A WANDERING STAR. 

common, and there are moments — rare per 
haps — but still moments, when she feels a 
perfect loathing for him. Then, late In the 
day — too late — she finds that Brian loves 
her, has never been false to her, that they 
might have been happy after all ; and now 
that a gleam of joy, though clouded by 
regret, has come Into her life, her enemies are 
implacable as ever. 

They rob her, first, of her girl companion ; 
they rob her of her good name, and they 
will part her from Brian in the end. 

She wonders hopelessly what her life will 
be when he has gone out of it, and so won- 
dering she reaches the house that she calls 
home. How lonely she feels — has always 
felt — in It, and its pretentious vulgarity and 
over-gilded splendour oppress her to-day 
more than ever. She can hardly face her 
elaborate luncheon in the gloomy renais- 
sance dining-room, or the observant looks of 
the three mutes who noiselessly glide about 
the room. She knows they see and take 
notes of her tear-stained countenance, for 
nothing escapes them. If she had some 



A WANDERING STAR. I 73 

one — even Dottle — to talk to, who would 
listen to her wrongs, feel for her, be even 
angrier than she herself could be, she thinks 
she could bear her troubles better. 

But they have taken away Dottle too ! 
Surely never was any one so forlorn ! Alas ! 
Vega has Indeed suffered, but the hardest 
blow that Fortune has yet aimed at her Is 
still to fall, and it Is none the less dangerous 
that she welcomes It as the best, the only, 
consolation that can come to her. 

Brian Beresford, till to-day, has been eager 
to find a pretext not to be a guest of Mr 
Mossop. He will not even set foot in The 
Towers if he can possibly avoid it, but he 
now unbidden breaks his own rule. 

Vega has been the whole afternoon in her 
usual corner in the conservatory, with her 
own thoughts for company ; they all run in the 
same groove, for over and over again does 
she recall the morning's scene, and over 
and over again does she see in imagina- 
tion Lady Julia's haughty face turned full 
towards her, and Lady Hermlone's sinister 
one as it looks steadily away. She conjures 



174 ^ WANDERING STAR, 

up the Other figures that were grouped 
around, apparently watching and enjoying 
the scene ; and there Is no doubt that she 
beHeves she read maHcIous curiosity in the 
expression of their faces as they saw her 
being tortured, which could hardly have 
been there. 

Beresford, on his side, has gathered some- 
thing of what has happened from the owner 
of The Grange, whose weight-carrier going 
lame early In the day has been obliged to 
come home early, He tells Brian a con- 
fused sort of story, but the latter, who can 
read Lady Julia like a book, and who mis- 
trusts Lady Hermlone even more than her 
bolder sister, can see the whole scene as If 
he had assisted at It. • 

He can also see in Imagination his little 
love, forlorn — broken-hearted, utterly cast 
down. No doubt it would be wiser, truer 
kindness to stay away from her side now, 
perhaps to stay away from her for ever ; but 
love is stronger than chains — he has no 
option — no will left — and when the chilly 
brightness of an early Spring day is fading 



A WANDERING STAR. I 75 

into yet more cheerless twilight Brian stands 
beside her. Lady Hermione, could she look 
in at this moment, would know, helped by 
her vast experience, that there is danger in 
the air, and she would laugh for joy. Brian 
and Vega only know that they are together, 
and that even Fate cannot rob them of all 
happiness. 

But the tide is running high, and soon 
they will be ofT their feet altogether. 

"My darling," he says in an unsteady 
voice, while her hand clings round his as if 
she must clasp it for ever, "this can't last. 
You can't go on for ever^like this. If you 
were even tolerably happy I would die sooner 
than ask you to leave your home, but as 
things are, you must come with me. You 
will never regret it. I swear to you I will 
make you happy beyond your wildest dreams. 
My little Vega, I can't]_live without you." 

Ah ! that is the argument that has led 
astray many a woman before her, and the 
words have not yet been spoken for the last 
time. 

Brian means them, and his listener be- 



176 A WANDERING STAR. 

lleves them, and as she so listens, prudence 
is thrown to the winds. 

No wonder ! The Fitzpatricks always 
were a wild and reckless race, and, after all, 
she is her father's child. If he made ship- 
wreck of his whole life by one mad act — an 
act which many as bad as himself, but more 
cautious, would not have had the pluck to 
attempt — it is not wonderful that his child 
should, by all the laws of heredity, follow in 
his footsteps. En avaiit, les erifants pei^dus. 

" You have something to lose, darling, I 
know that," he goes on ; ''but right or wrong, 
I can't part from you now. Don't speak to 
me about your husband. You never cared 
for him, and all he ever cared for was money. 
What are you afraid of, my child ? Not the 
world's opinion now ? " 

'' What is the alternative ? " she asks in a 
whisper, and her face, as he looks at it in 
the fading light, is perfectly colourless. 

" The reverse of the medal is that we 
should never meet again. I tell you fairly, 
it must be one thing or the other. I should 
leave England, probably for my old haunts 



A WANDERING STAR. I 77 

In Oregon, but this time it would be for ever. 
Yes, Vega, these are no empty words spoken 
to frighten you. You must see for yourself 
that the present situation can't last. Half 
measures are no good. Vega, darling Vega, 
don't fail me ; don't you know you would 
be happy with me ? " 

Their lips meet, and in that wild embrace 
their doom is sealed. 

Before he leaves her it is quite dark, 
which perhaps is all the better when the road 
has to be mapped out that leads to dishonour. 

The reckless side of Vega's character is 
uppermost now, and she means to revenge 
herself on a world that has treated her so 
hardly. She forgets that it will be an unequal 
match from the very beginning ; but clasped 
in the arms of the only man she ever loved, 
she cannot foresee the punishment which will 
come so swiftly. 

Before he leaves her he has made every 
arrangement for their disastrous journey. 
There is something almost repulsive about 
all the prosaic arrangements that have to be 
made. Vega's departure from her husband's 

VOL. III. N 



178 A WANDERING STAR. 

house must not be left to chance, but must 
be planned and thought out as carefully as if 
it was not an utterly unexpected and lawless 
step. The commonplace, practical side comes 
uppermost, and jars on the highly-strung, 
over-excited mind in a curiously painful way. 
It is terrible to have to concoct plans 
which will delay the chances of discovery 
as long as possible ; to make a rendezvous 
of some utterly commonplace locality ; to 
settle even the train by which she is to meet 
Brian ; to go over it all step by step, to pre- 
vent any chance of a mistake. 

It is not a hard task in itself, it is only too 
easy, but the conscience gives unexpected 
twinges as the route is mapped out. It grates 
horribly on the nerves to be obliged to use 
her husband's carriage to take her the first 
stage of her downhill journey, and yet any- 
thing else would arouse suspicion at once. 
The idea of starting alone is positively 
frightening, and yet it is wiser far to meet 
Brian at some appointed place than that he 
should come in person to take her from 
The Towers. 



A WANDERING STAR. I 79 

But she does not waver ; the die was cast 
when Beresford told her the alternative : she 
cannot live without him. 

The full consequences of the step she is 
about to take are not so distinct and fatal in 
her eyes as they would be to most women. 
The world has been such an unkind one to her 
that its praise or blame counts but for little. 

She has known "scathe and shame, and a 
waefu' name " already, and custom makes 
one sadly callous. 

If she thought that her husband would 
really care, that but one human being would 
care, it might be different, but she believes 
herself to be utterly alone. 

The light of Brian's eyes blind her to 
every earthly consideration, and if ever there 
was any one who counted the world well lost 
for love it is this girl. 

Before he leaves her it is all settled. He 
is to go to London to-morrow, arrange his 
affairs there, put everything in order for a 
long absence, and take their passages to 
America ; for, blinded though he may be by 
passion also, he still realizes that the old 

N 2 



I So A WANDERING STAR. 

world would be too small for them once their 
sin was known. 

Then he is to return to The Grange for a 
night, and the next day he and Vega will 
meet never to part. 

" I have promised Bowlby " (his heavy 
friend) " to hunt a young horse of his that 
he means to run in the Hunt Steeplechase," 
says Beresford, " and I am afraid if 1 refused 
now he would be full of curiosity. There 
has been so much talk about this ride, and as 
he is too heavy himself, and the animal is 
rather a handful, he would be very much 
put out, for he wouldn't give many people 
the chance of breaking their necks off him. 
He thinks me worthy of that honour, and I 
couldn't decline at the last moment without 
a good deal more talk than I should care for. 
I think the wisest plan will be for me to hunt 
on Friday as settled. The meet is a long 
way off, I will send the horse home early in 
the day, and meet you at Overton in the 
afternoon. You will not fail me, my darling, 
will you ? and we will get the evening train 
to London from there." 



A WANDERING STAR. l8l 

He need not fear ! He has but to 
speak now, and she will obey him ; there 
will be no more indecision, no wavering 
on her part ; she is his now, body and 
soul. 

As they stand together, saying the last 
good-bye they will ever have to say, Miss 
Mossop, blithe, boisterous, and full of 
life, and vigorous health, bursts in on 
them. 

There has been no tragic element in her 
day ! She has galloped, and jumped till 
the bitter blast of March seemed to her 
only fresh and bracing, and now she 
comes bringing, as it were, a whiff of the 
cold night air with her into the unwhole- 
some, scent-laden atmosphere of the con- 
servatory. 

She is a regular hearty, wholesome, out-of- 
doors woman, and the keen air outside is 
more to her taste than this stifling warmth ; 
she likes as little also the aspect of affairs as 
far as Vega is concerned. 

The two are not talking as she enters, but 
there is something about their silence that 



1 82 A WANDERING STAR. 

Strikes her as dangerous, and as she looks 
from one to the other her jovial face grows 
serious, and she shakes her head as she 
has had occasion to shake It so often 
lately. 



A WANDERING STAR, l8^ 



CHAPTER VII. 

" Oh ! waly, waly ! but love is bonnie 
A little time while it is new. 
But when it's auld it waxes cauld, 
And fades away like morning dew." 

Now that Vega's feet are set on the 
downward path it seems as if everything 
combines for her destruction. She is deter- 
mined to go to ruin, and hers is not the 
nature to count the cost. At the same time 
it is possible that she, who all her life has 
longed for kindness and experienced so little 
of it, might still be saved w^ere the hand of 
friendship held out to her boldly. But no 
such hand touches hers, and it is an unfor- 
tunate coincidence that Mr. Mossop has 
never been so troublesome, so bumptious, or 
so difficult before. It is part of his nature 



184 A WANDERING STAR. 

to bear malice, and he has not forgottei^u 
how his wife thwarted him at Hautaine 
Castle yesterday. Things had heen so 
different to what he had intended them to 
be. He had seen himself in fancy accepted 
as one of themselves by the Hautaines ! 
He had believed that Vega would be a bond 
of union between the great family and him- 
self, and his skin would have been thick 
enough to have stood even Lady Hautaine's 
lofty scorn could he have got into the 
charmed circle at all. 

Vega's refusal upset all his calculations. 
To be sure Lord Hautaine shook hands with 
him, but he seemed hazy about his name, 
and did not in any way pick him out from 
the crowd, while Lady Hautaine looked him 
up and down through her gold-rimmed 
glasses, and her glances would have struck 
terror into a stouter heart than the unfortu- 
nate parvenu was furnished with. 

He now insists that Vega acted as she did 
on purpose to annoy him, and he as good as 
tells her he does not see what use she is to 
him at all. 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 85 

" Vm blest if I see what's the good of 
you, Miss Vega," he says to his wife the 
evening before the day on which she means 
that he should be rid of her society for ever. 

*' Hush ! Albert ! hush ! You've no 
business to speak like that!" says Miss 
Charley, authoritatively. 

She is never afraid of her brother, and 
does not care if she diverts his wrath to her- 
self, if by so doing she can shield her poor 
little sister-in-law. 

"When I want your advice, Miss Mossop, 
I will ask for it!" says her brother, pompously. 
" I am quite capable of speaking to my wife 
without your assistance!" 

They are sitting, a dreary trio, in the 
*' Versailles gallery " after dinner. Mr. 
Mossop is not exactly the worse for liquor, 
but he has certainly taken a trifle more than 
is good for him. He fills well the great 
gilded chair, whose florid ornamentation 
might have suited the grandeur of a French 
palace, and the regal air of " him men called 
the Grand Monarque," but Mr. Mossop 
looks thoroughly out of place in it, and his 



1 86 A WANDERING STAR. 

flushed countenance and heavy clumsy figure 
have nothing very royal about them. 

He is talking loudly, and just a little 
thickly, and Vega, as she looks at him, feels 
half glad that he looks as he does. Her 
justification is himself. 

" I am not a swell," he goes on, *^ and 
don't pretend to be one " (oh ! Mr. Mossop ! 
in a perfectly sober moment, you would not 
have owned as much). "■ I am a plain man, 
and like getting my money's worth, and that*s 
what I have not got out of you, Mrs. 
Mossop. I don't say it's your fault. You 
can't help it ; but you're no companion to 
me^ like Charley here is, for all her preach- 
ing, and a man gets tired of a pretty face 
when there's nothing else to come and go 
on. I wanted to climb up the tree a bit, and 
I thought you and your fine relations might 
have given me a leg up — but hang me if its 
not the other way on. They won't look our 
way, and you won't look theii^ way, from pure 
cussedness. Yes, that's what it is. You 
think it would please me, and that's enough 
for you. You wouldn't do that for all I am 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 87 

worth," and his red face becomes more 
heated, and he works himself up into a state 
of maudlin pity for himself. 

It would have made Vega wince a night 
or two ago ; she listens to him now in a dull 
indifferent kind of way, while at the same time 
there runs through her head a curious feeling 
of satisfaction, for every harsh, coarse word 
he utters seems in a measure to condone her 
sin. She forgets, and is glad to forget, that 
in his sober moments he is incapable of hurt- 
ing her feelings ; looking at him as he is 
suits her present frame of mind better. 

The morning of the next day passes like 
a dream ; indeed there seems a want of 
reality about everything that positively sur- 
prises her. She wanders about the house 
knowing that she is doing so for the last 
time, but she feels neither joy nor sorrow. 
She paces down the gilded gallery, stands 
between walls of bloom in the conservatory, 
looks at the familiar objects which have 
always been indifferent to her, and with the 
exception of a passing pang as she opens the 
door of the room inhabited by Dottie in the 



1 88 A WANDERING STAR. 

visit SO lately cut short, she might be a 
stranger in her husband's house. 

She felt more sorry when she left that 
poor, mean, shabby house at Dieppe, sad- 
dened by the tragedy of her father's death. 

Now she can laugh — ''a shadow of 
laughter like a sigh " — when she thinks that 
never again will she hear the value of the 
'' Trianon suite" discussed, or the extravagant 
charges, and excellent taste of Messrs. Dado 
8z Frieze enlarged on ; she will never again 
see Mr. Mossop, pompous and fussy, stand- 
ing at his usual post near the door on 
guest nights, or listen to his discussion after 
the last visitor has departed as to whethe r 
the banquet spread for them had or had not 
'' been up to the mark." 

He may spend his evenings In heavy sleep 
on the satin-decked sofa, or too much 
champagne may make him quarrelsome 
and argumentative, but she will not be a 
witness. 

The last morning passes away quietly, and 
with equal quiet does she leave all the home 
she has known for two years. There is no 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 89 

agitation, no flurry, but she feels as if she 
were walking in her sleep. 

She does everything by rote : she had 
made up her mind to the fatal plunge before 
hand, and all she now does is to follow 
blindly the course mapped out. It is said 
that a sudden shock to mind or body takes 
away for the timebeing all sense of pain, 
or power of feeling, and it is much the 
same when any great decision has been 
reached. 

She is a mere machine now. She tells the 
coachman who has driven her to the station 
that he need not wait for her, and though his 
well-trained face shows no surprise, as indeed 
it would not were the trial far harder, it is 
she who is astonished that her voice sounds 
much as usual. 

By that order she cuts herself adrift from 
all that is proper, respectable, and virtuous, 
and she knows it. Men will smile and 
women look askance when they see her. 
She will be an outcast, a pariah from this 
moment, and yet it is no effort to her to pro- 
nounce her own sentence of social death. 



IQO A WANDERING STAR. 

But she seems all of a sudden to have 
grown oddly alert and sensitive. 

She takes to wondering If It Is accident or 
design that makes the ticket collector ask her 
twice over where she wishes to go, and she 
is not sure if the two porters who fuss about 
her do so for the purpose of spying or 
simply In hopes that she may tip them as 
handsomely as Mr. Mossop is In the habit of 
doing. She is surprised that she should 
think of such trifles, and It Is also odd to her 
that when she sees some neighbours come on 
to the platform her first Impulse Is to hide 
herself 

If she lives long enough she will know by 
bitter experience how best to avoid curious 
and unfriendly eyes, but It is strange that 
she should begin so soon. 

In a dream she travels the short railway 
journey, gets out at Overton station, and 
walks, for It is but a hundred yards off, to the 
only hotel In the place — If the " Hautaine 
Arms," half tavern, half house of call for 
commercial travellers, can be dignified by 
such a name. 



A WANDERING STAR. I9I 

It is one of those inns that abound now-a- 
clays without either old-fashioned comfort or 
modern advantao^es, but with a certain 
amount of cheap and vulgar pretension. As 
she crosses the threshold the girl begins to 
feel lonely in good earnest. She had counted 
the moments till the train stopped at the 
station, feeling it was a certainty that Brian 
would be waiting for her there, as agreed 
on ; possibly he too might be hiding just at 
first, but he would be there beyond all 
doubt. 

But the platform is deserted by all but an 
old man, who mumbles the name of the 
station in tones that no passenger, however 
intelligent, could possibly make out, and a 
baby-porter of ten or twelve, who, after 
hurling some tin boxes larger than himself 
out of the van, dashes to the entrance gate 
as if to defend it single-handed from stray 
absconding passengers. 

There is no Brian at the hotel either, or 
any word of him, and as Vega stands in its 
small and not over-clean entrance hall, the 
sound of revelry coming from the bar, and 



192 A WANDERING STAR. 

the appearance of one or two befuddled 
rustics, who look at her with curiosity, some- 
what alarm her. 

The eagle eye of the barmaid, a lady with 
extremely red cheeks and a greasy black 
fringe, Is also fixed on her, as its owner 
gazes at the new arrival from an open window 
that gives on the passage. There is no 
hostility In her unflinching stare, but there is 
a good deal of superiority. 

She cannot make Vega out at all, and any- 
thinof Miss Mounser does not understand 
must have, to use her own words, something 
'* fishy " about it. 

At the same time she knows " the queer 
ways of gentlefolks," and waits for the other 
to take the initiative. Vega finds words at 
last. " I expected to meet Mr. Beresford 
here. Is he not arrived ? " 

" O'ho ! " thinks Miss Mounser, her bold 
black eyes twinkling as they seem to spy 
out some scandal ; " that's the name of the 
good-looking young gent as has taken 
No. 5. What does she want with him, I 
wonder ? She's not his wife, I warrant. 



A WANDERING STAR. I 93 

Married ladies have more bounce about 
them, let them be as young as they like, and 
if he's her fancy man, and she's meeting him 
on the sly like, why the ' Hautaine Arms ' 
is a queer sort of place for them to pitch 
on." Aloud she says, with dignity, '' Mr. 
Beresford have taken No. 5 here, but I was 
not awear he expected visitors. We never 
like to offend our customers, and I don't 
know if I ought to ask you to step up there 
to wait till he comes." 

Mrs. Mossop has no answer ready, and 
Miss Mounser relents. 

'' I daresay it's all right, Miss." 

She rings the bell majestically ; it is 
answered by a red-armed Cinderella, who has 
evidently suspended operations in the 
scullery to attend to the summons. 

'* Show the lady to No. 5," says the bar- 
maid, without turning her head, in tones that 
would be haughty if used by the Czar of 
Russia to the meanest of his subjects, and 
Cinderella clatters up the creaking stairs 
before Mrs. Mossop, and throws open the 
door of the sitting-room with a flourish. 

VOL. III. o 



194 'A WANDERING STAR. 

Surely nothing short of a condemned cell 
could be more depressing than the appearance 
of No. 5. To be forced to wait for any length 
of time in such a room, and alone, might 
strike terror into the stoutest heart. It is not 
even small, so could never by any possibility 
be made snug, and as it is rarely entered, 
except on market days, when a few well-to-do 
farmers in the neighbourhood hold a sort of 
'' ordinary" there, it feels like a grave. The 
large table round which these worthies sit 
when they devour tough beef and pickles, 
washed down by heady beer, is now covered 
by a huge crochet tablecloth of glaring 
colours, on each corner of which is placed a 
brightly - bound book, the centre being 
occupied by a stuffed kingfisher under a glass 
case. There is a horsehair-covered sofa, 
with chairs to match, and an '' occasional " 
table is covered with more glass cases con- 
taining curiosities in feather, flower, and 
bead- work. It is a ghastly room altogether, 
and stray puffs of smoke from a newly-lighted 
fire do not improve matters. At the best of 
times it would be a trial to find oneself there ; 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 95 

but for Vega, in her present overwrought, 
excited state, it is positive torture. 

Every five minutes seems an hour as she 
sits shivering, as much from nervousness as 
from cold. She has tried to think till the 
power of thinking seems actually to have 
left her. What has happened ? Has she 
made some mistake as to day, or hour, or 
place ? Has anything been discovered ? 
She knows that Brian could not fail her ; 
but why does he not come '^. What is to 
become of her if he never comes at all ? 
Cinderella stumps in again to light a gas 
burner, innocent of globe or shade, and takes 
her fill of staring as she fumbles with the 
match. Mrs. Mossop is evidently an object 
of the greatest interest in her eyes, and no 
wonder, for Miss Mounser and the landlord 
have been talking her over for the last hour 
in the bar, and she has been able to over- 
hear a good deal of their conversation. 

In self-defence Vega leaves her chair and 
wanders about the room, but neither a print 
of Lord Hautaine in full uniform as colonel 
of the Blankshire Yeomanry, or a coarse 

o 2 



196 A WANDERING STAR. 

engraving representing Noah surrounded by 
his family and a good many animals, offer- 
ing up a sacrifice on the top of Mount 
Ararat, seems to have the power of fixing 
her attention. She examines the gaudily- 
bound books on the centre table one after 
the other. The first is a collection of poems 
by a local genius, printed by subscription ; 
laboured rhymes which the author himself 
could hardly have understood ; the next, a 
guide to Blankshire. Mrs. Mossop takes it 
up, and mechanically turns to a florid and 
highly-coloured description of The Towers. 
It gives her a curious feeling that amounts 
to positive pain when she reads her own 
name there: "Married, in 188-, Vega, only 
child of the late Ralph and Lady Mary Fitz- 
patrick, and niece of the Earl of Hautaine." 
What pleasure and pride Mr. Mossop 
had doubtless taken in that description of 
his wife. How well he would think it read ! 
How satisfactory to have the Hautaine name 
and his own united, at least in print ! His 
wife puts down the book with a sigh, and by 
a strange perversity of the human mind, he 



A WANDERING STAR. J 97 

comes before her for the moment, not as the 
drinking, boasting, coarse-minded and ill- 
mannered man he has seemed to her lately, 
but as the kind-hearted husband who, in spite 
of all his snobbishness and vulgarity, has some 
real affection for herself His side of the ques- 
tion suddenly seems to strike her ; his admi- 
ration of her beauty, his pride in it and her, 
the substantial benefits he has poured on 
her — they all will come into her head at 
once. After all, what harm has he ever 
done her? He married her — a penniless 
girl, with a tainted name. It is hardly his 
fault that nature cast him In so coarse a 
mould, that they have not an idea or feeling 
in common. She has room in her heart for 
sorrow for him, as well as for herself, as she 
sits there, and she has plenty of time for 
thought, for hour after hour drags on, and 
still she Is alone. The kitchen clock in the 
room below strikes seven. She has been here 
nearly three hours. Night will soon be on in 
good earnest. What, In Heaven's name, is 
to become of her? But hush! she hears a 
noise of voices and footsteps on the stairs. 



198 A WANDERING STAR. 

There Is a small commotion in the house. 
Something has happened. Brian must have 
come — have come at last ; and in his presence 
she will forget all her troubles. 

She hears Miss Mounser's loud metallic 
voice, and she hears a manly footstep. The 
barmaid is evidently showing the w^ay up- 
stairs herself to Brian, but surely she will 
leave him at the door ? Vega wants no 
witnesses when she and her love meet. 
Nothing but his arms around her, his kisses 
on her mouth, will make her forget what 
she has suffered, will blind her to what is 
before her still. 

The door opens — and Mr. Mossop stands 
before her ! 

He is still in his red coat and splashed 
boots and breeches, and no doubt looks as 
sturdy, thick-set, and undignified as usual ; 
but Vega has her eyes fixed on his face, and 
can see nothino: else. 

It is hardly to be expected of the husband 
of an erring wife, one who has left him for 
another man, and who has only been over- 
taken by her lawful owner after the journey has 



A WANDERING STAR. 1 99 

begun, that he should look particularly calm 
or composed. It is hard to keep a proper 
command over one's looks when one's happi- 
ness is about to be wrecked for ever, one's good 
name dragged through the mire, and when the 
worst blow that can strike a man has already 
befallen him. But Mr. Mossop looks neither 
wrathful nor passionate. He does not bluster, 
nor do loud tones break the silence when 
Miss Mounser at last shuts the door and 
leaves him alone with his wife. 

Any one might see that he has suffered 
frightfully — has had some terrible shock which 
has quite unnerved him ; but his eyes are 
full of sympathy as he looks at the shrlnk- 
inof fio^ure and the dead white face of the 
girl who In the opinion of the world has 
played him the worst trick that any woman 
can play her husband. He has suddenly 
grown the dignified one of the two ; his plain 
face is, as It were, transfigured, and the 
mercy that shines in his eyes might well 
condone some of the petty faults and fallings 
that Veea had found so unbearable in the 
past. The tables are turned now — the 



200 A WANDERING STAR. 

genuine kindness of the man stands out, and 
even at this supreme moment Vega feels 
that she has a friend near her. He comes 
over to where she is standing, takes her ice- 
cold hand in his. and holds it in his strong 
grasp ; but her small face looks pinched and 
drawn, and she cannot meet his eyes as she 
cowers away from him. 

" You poor child," he says to her after a 
pause ; it is hard for him to find words in 
which to tell her what has to be told. He 
must break his news to her gently, and yet 
even a humdrum, middle-aged, unrefined man 
may be allowed some feeling on his side, at 
such a time as this. " Vega, I have come 
to tell you that — that — Beresford has had a 
very bad fall out hunting to-day. He is — 
that is — the doctor fears the worst." 

He is afraid she will faint, for assuredly 
he never saw a human face so ashy-white 
before. The blood has all rushed back to her 
heart, and for a minute or two her laboured 
breathing is the only sound that breaks the 
silence. 

She recovers herself by a mighty effort ; 



A WANDERING STAR. 20I 

but it is positive gratitude to the man who 
stands beside her that gives her so much 
strength. She cannot speak — -she is beyond 
that — and he goes on a Httle faster : '' It was 
in this morning's run that the accident hap- 
pened. Beresford was riding a regular brute 
— a young thoroughbred that Bowlby wanted 
to quahfy for the Hunt Steeplechases after 
Easter — the rawest, greenest thing you ever 
saw. Beresford eot him over about three 
fences after a regular fight at each, and the 
next thing was a flight of railings — nothing so 
very big after all — but the brute never rose 
an inch at it — came head over heels on the 
other side ; broke his own back, and when 
Beresford was picked up he was all of a — 
he was so bad we thought he was dead. 
I was close to him when he fell, and got a 
gate taken off its hinges, and we carried him 
to a farm-house, which was fortunately close 
by. He is still unconscious ; but — no, no, 
Vega, he is not dead ! " — as she lifts her 
eyes to his as if she would read him through 
and through — " and while there's life there's 
hope." 



202 A WANDERING STAR. 

It costs him a great deal to say those 
last words, but he utters thexii manfully, 
and, better still, he wishes no evil to the 
man who had meant to wrong him so deeply. 
We are told to forgive our enemies, and for a 
wonder Mr. Mossop obeys the command ; but 
perhaps even he might have found it beyond 
his powers if that enemy was not lying at the 
point of death, or had not more likely by this 
time shuffled off this mortal coil altogether. 
''You won't refuse to come home with me, 
will you, Vega ? Poor little girl ! we are 
your best friends after all, and I think you 
know us well enough — Charley and I — to be 
quite certain that bygones will be bygones. 
You didn't know what you were about 
to-day. You didn't think how you would 
hurt me, did you, Vega ? " and his voice 
shakes very perceptibly. " No, no ! You are 
such a child, but you have had a sad lesson. 
Now we must think about going back to The 
Towers. Charley will be in a dreadful state 
if we don't get home to-night. We must 
catch the late train to Grimthorpe, and drive 
from there. Do you care to know how I 



A WANDERING STAR. 203 

found out where you were ? " he asks, as 
they resign themselves to two more hours' 
dreary waiting in dismal No. 5, for the 
London train does not reach Overton station 
till nearly ten o'clock. "It was your friend 
Dottle Langton who came to tell me what 
was going on, and to entreat me to do some- 
thing. I had ridden straight home from the 
farm-house where I had left Beresford, feel- 
ing uncommonly upset, as you may imagine, 
when I was told that Miss Langton had 
been waiting to see me for the last hour. 
I went Into the library and found her there 
in the most dreadful state of excitement. 
She had found out — Heaven knows how — 
that things were going wrong, and she came 
straight over to let me know. She had the 
greatest possible difficulty in getting over 
from Conholt ; but it seems the stud groom is a 
friend of hers, and he drove her to The Towers 
in some sort of tax-cart. She talked wildly 
about some promise she had once made to 
stand your friend, and she was ready to go 
on her knees to beg me to try to bring you 
back. It was a dreadful shock to her when 



204 A WANDERING STAR. 

I told her about Beresforcl ; but it made her 
all the more anxious about you. Believe 
me, Vega, I didn't need much persuasion to 
come after you. What I might have done 
if things had been different I don't know. 
Perhaps poor Dottle might have spoken to 
me in vain." 

He rambles on, hardly knowing what he 
is talking about ; but that is of little con- 
sequence, for she does not take it in very 
well. She Is so confused — she feels stupid 
and giddy. If she was obliged to say what 
had happened within the last few hours she 
could hardly do It ; but she Is thankful that 
Mr. Mossop should talk. If he kept silence, 
and If the two figures who sit facing each 
other on either side of the fire were both 
mute, It would be still more dreadful. She feels 
his kindness, though everything seems vague 
and Indistinct around her. He fusses out 
of the room for some tea, and when It comes 
he will not let Miss Mounser or Cinderella 
bring it Into the room, but receives It him- 
self at the door, for he does not wish to 
expose her to the fire of prying eyes. He 



A WANDERING STAR. 205 

even succeeds, after a prolonged struggle 
with the fire, In making It burn a little 
better, and the warmth comforts Vega In 
spite of herself; and when he rolls her In her 
long cloak, trimmed with costly furs, that 
he had given her so lately and swaggered 
about so much, and enlarged on the price in 
such an annoying manner, and when the 
time at last comes to leave that dreadful 
room, he saves her from Miss Mounser's 
burning curiosity, and from the stolid and 
unflinching stare of her aide-de-camp. 

If refinement and good breeding are, and 
always will be, wanting in Mr. Mossop, this 
much must be allowed : that, when actually 
put to the test, his kind heart makes up for 
other deficiencies. 

It is possible that a more refined man 
might have forgiven her less fully, and that 
a man with greater depth of feeling might 
have felt the shame and disgrace much 
more keenly ; if so, it is fortunate indeed 
that Mr. Mossop is made of coarser, stouter, 
fibre, for if ever any one had need of a 
friend it Is Vega. 



206 A WANDERING STAR. 

It would appear as If every one In Blank- 
shire must have seen her as she left her 
husband's house and went away, as she 
thought, for ever. Her friends know 
every particular ; they remind each other 
that they had foretold her flight for months ; 
they make merry over the desolate hours 
spent by the girl at the '' Hautalne Arms," 
and think it an exquisite joke that her 
husband, and not her lover, should have 
been first at the tryst. They laugh at Mr. 
Mossop's folly in taking her home again, 
and find so much that Is ludicrous In the 
whole miserable business that they miss the 
tragic side of it altogether. 

But Vega cares nothing for their scorn. 
She does not see their contemptuous smiles. 
She would not hear their voices raised In 
blame or disdain were they ten times as 
loud. That will all come later — In good 
time they will make her wince. As the 
years roll on she will learn the lesson that 
for some the world has no mercy, and that 
she Is one of them. 

But she is dead to all such considerations 



A WANDERING STAR. 207 

now, for her whole Hfe, her every thought 
and feeling, is bound up in Brian Beresford, 
who is lying apparently at the point of death 
in the farm-house where he was carried after 
his accident by Mr. Mossop and others, and 
from which there is every likelihood he will 
soon be taken to the village churchyard. 



208 A WANDERIXG STAR. 



CHAPTER VIII. 

"Scathe and shame, and a wafu' name, 

And a weary time and strange 
Have they that, seeing a weird for dreeing, 
Can die and cannot change. 

Shame and scorn may we thole that mourn, 

Though sair be they to dree, 
But ill may we bide the thoughts we hide 

Mair keen than wind or sea." 

" Oh ! my dear ! my dear ! can nothing be 
done to comfort you? It breaks my heart 
to see you like this. You must try and 
rouse yourself a little — you will die if you 
go on fretting." 

Plenty of people would be horrified could 
they have heard Miss Mossop talking to her 
young sister-in-law in words of kindness and 
sympathy. According to them, she, of all 
people, ought to turn away her honest eyes 
from one who had strayed, or at least done 



A WANDERING STAR. 209 

her best to stray from the paths of virtue. 
*' It Is very dangerous to tamper with vice," 
says Mrs. Grundy, piously, " and it is hardly 
possible to conceive anything more bold and 
brazen than the conduct of this young Mrs. 
Mossop, or more ill-advised than Miss Mos- 
sop's behaviour." Not only do the Pharisees 
of society look on Miss Mossop's staunch 
support of Vega as a proof of something 
dangerously lax about her own morals, but 
there are others who call her the champion 
of vice, who might have well been expected 
to take a broader view. 

Lady Hermione, whose conscience bears 
the weight of a hundred sins — sins none the 
less deadly because of the veil which has 
hidden them from the eyes of a world that, 
for some inscrutable reason, has never cared 
to lift it — Lady Julia, who has been auda- 
ciously bold and reckless — who has all but 
outraged public decency, but who has known 
how to gain forgiveness by giving society all 
it wanted, and by her very Indifference to its 
praise or blame — these, and others like 
thern, are loud In their condemnation of Miss 

VOL. III. p 



,2IO A WANDERING STAR. 

Mossop. They cannot hold their peace, 
and it would be hard indeed on the poor 
friendless girl if they could make any im- 
pression on Miss Mossop. But Miss Charley 
has received from Nature more common 
sense and clearness of vision than falls to 
the share of most women, and her heart is a 
heart of gold. She sees and understands 
the situation perfectly, and she, who would 
always find extenuating circumstances for 
the most erring, can feel for Vega. If she had 
not been there to stand by her, Vega could 
hardly have endured the days that followed 
her return home, tortured as she was with 
anxiety on Brian's account. 

But it is Miss Mossop who supports her, 
who comforts her, and who (and here Mrs. 
Grundy might indeed hold up her hands in 
horror !) finds out in some mysterious way 
the issues of life and death as far as Brian is 
concerned. 

At the present moment she has just come 
in from her afternoon walk, for either in joy 
or sorrow Miss Charley cannot bring herself 
to forego her constitutional, and after looking 



A WANDERING STAR. 2 I I 

about everywhere for Vega, she finds her at 
last crouching by the fire in the Gallery. 
The firelight that falls on the gilded splen- 
dour around, falls also on a sad face, white 
to the very lips, and eyes that look full of 
unshed tears turn sadly to Miss Mossop. 
The latter sits down on the chair near her, 
and smoothes her fair hair, and strokes her 
shoulder, and does everything that a kind 
soul can do to show affection and sympathy. 
*' Don't look back, Vega clear," she says, as 
cheerily as she can manage. "What good does 
it do to any one to mope for ever ? You 
must — we must all hope for the best," for 
she knows that, in spite of everything, the 
girl's head is full of Brian and his sufferings, 
and that she never thinks of anything else. 
" I will — I will, Charley, later on," answers 
Vega, and her voice sounds woe-begone 
indeed ; '' but, oh ! Charley, what am I to do 
now? Read this letter," and her trembling 
fingers hand the paper they hold to the 
other. " I will obey you in everything, I 
promise you that, but don't make it too hard 
for me," and she falls to weeping, her poor 

I' 2 



2 12 A WANDERING STAR. 

face buried in her hands, while her sister-in- 
law reads the letter she has been given. 
The writing is laboriously clear and distinct, 
but the pen of a ready writer did not trace 
those fine strokes and curling characters. 
It has been the work of a careful hand, 
whose owner no doubt felt a certain amount 
of pride when the task was done. It runs 

thus : — 

" Great Bridlington Farm, Blanksbire. 

'' Honoured Madam, 

" Pardon the liberty I take in thus addressing you, 

but Mr. Beresford wishes me to inform you that he will 

Goon be leaving us. He doesn't want to do so, poor 

gentleman, but the great London doctors want him to 

be near themselve=;, and he is to be took up to London 

the day after to-morrow. He wouldn't go to-morrow, 

though his sister and them all wanted it, but he tells me 

to say he must say good-bye to you before he goes, and 

wouldn't you come over just to see h'm for five minutes, 

and to shake him by the hand. Do, dear lady, if you 

can, for you might be sorry afterwards as you hadn't 

done it. 

"Your obedient humble servant, 

" Mrs. Hales." 

Miss Mossop reads it twice over before 
she speaks, and the sad eyes of the other 
watch her all the time. 



A WANDERING STAR. 2 I 3 



"It would be very rough on my brother if 
you went," she says ; " but I think you vites^ 
go all the same." She does not say that 
Vega is bound to obey a dying man's wish, 
but that is what she means, and Vega un- 
derstands her perfectly. 

" Let me see," she goes on with her usual 
decision and practical clear-sightedness ; 
" Great Bridlington, is, I suppose, a dozen 
miles from here. I must drive you over. 
We shall take no one v/ith us — and Vega, I 
think you will be bound to tell my brother 
what vou have done sooner or later, but not 
beforehand. I should advise you to say 
nothing about it just now." 

The next day is not cold, or at any rate 
not colder than an English April day usually 
is, but before Great Bridlington is reached 
Vega is shaking like an aspen leaf Her 
very teeth chatter, and she is past speaking 
when Miss Mossop pulls up at the gate of 
the farm. A small old-fashioned garden is 
between the house and the road, and as Vega 
gets down the comfortable, comely mistress 
of the place advances to meet her. 



2 14 A WANDERING STAR. 

" I shall leave you here for half an hour," 
says Miss Mossop to her sister-in-law, "but 
I don't think you ought to stay longer, Vega," 
and she drives slowly along the road, leaving 
Vega in the company of Mrs. Hales. 

" There now, ma'am, I a?u glad to see 
you," says the latter, with effusive welcome, 
as happy as if sickness and death had • 
nothing to say to her visitor's arrival on the 
scene. " Poor gentleman, he be very bad 
to-day, and it would be hard to disappoint a 
dying man." 

Vega's limbs totter under her ; will they 
ever carry her across that little garden, or 
will she faint outright on the narrow gravel 
path that seems to be swaying up and down 
like a ship in a storm ? She does not know ; 
but she hears Mrs. Hales' cheerful, uncon- 
cerned voice as if it were a dozen miles off, 
•even though she does not miss a word of 
what she says. The mistress of Great 
Bridlington is by no means heartless, but in 
her own words "she has seen a heap of 
trouble," and takes a morbid kind of pleasure 
in discussing melancholy subjects. 



A WANDERING STAR. 215 

** I wish you had seen him when he was 
brought into my kitchen," continues Mrs. 
Hales, overjoyed to find a new Hstener to a 
story that she knows by heart now. '' Poor 
young man, indeed ! His own mother 
wouldn't have known him. His face was all 
black, and he was that covered with blood 
like ! Why, law, miss ! you did give me a 
turn to see you," this after Vega has struggled 
back to consciousness, after slipping down in a 
heap on to the stone step at the front door at 
Mrs. Hales' feet. She does not faint dead 
away, but she is very near it, and when she 
stumbles up she is ghastly white ; '' but I see 
how it is ! You're for all the world like me 
and mine. We never could a-bear the sound 
of blood, let alone the sight of it. Why ! 
when I saw the poor fellow all streaming like, 
I as near as possible went off myself — dropped 
on the floor like a stone. Not that I haven't 
done my best for him since, though I expect 
all my pains has gone for nothing. As I 
told Hales last night, he may get round or 
he may not, but he'll never make old bones 
any ways. Hales did call me no better nor 



2l6 A WANDERING STAR. 

a fool for saying so ; but we'll see who's the 
fool one of these days. It's this way, 
ma'am," for they have entered the house, 
and are now climbing the creaking stairs. 
" You'll find him alone, for his sister drove 
into Grimthorpe not an hour agone, and he 
made his nurse go out for a walk; but don't 
you stay too long with him, miss — ma'am, I 
mean. He's not fit for it." She o:ives a 
loud knock at a bedroom door, and a weak 
voice calls out '' Come in ! " 

'' Here's Mrs. Mossop come to see you," 
says Mrs. Hales, in a loud cheerful voice, 
the voice always adopted by a certain class 
of people in their intercourse with invalids ; 
" but, lor, sir ! why you're all in the dark. 
This is terrible gloomy ; wait a minute till I 
get the blinds up and open the shutters." 

Vega cannot see Brian's face, but a hand 
looking strangely unlike his stops Mrs. Hales. 

'* No! no! leave it like that, please!" gasps 
a voice that surely cannot be his, and then 
as the farmer's wife bustles out of the room 
feeling much disappointed that Vega has not 
the chance of seeing the handsome mahogany 



A WANDERING STAR. 21/ 

furniture of the best bedroom, the girl turns 
to the bed. 

It is nearly pitch dark, but Brian has so 
willed it. Brian, once so bold and resolute, 
cannot now face the horror he believes he 
would read in Vega's eyes were she to see 
him as he now is : with all his beauty stamped 
out of his face by a horse's hoof, and turned 
into an object from which he believes she 
must shrink in disgust. 

Were his head stronger his mind might 
not run on this so much, and he might trust 
her more ; but though he has longed to see 
his love once ag^ain with a lonorincr that has 
been positive torture, now that she stands 
beside him he feels he can hardly bear it. 
He must hide himself from her, she must 
not see his scarred face, she must not remem- 
ber him in days to come as he now is. Why 
did he ever send for her ? Why did he force 
suffering on her ? — she, who has suffered 

enough for him already ! Why but he 

need not go on, for V^ega bends over him. 
Vega's lovely face is close to his, and he 
knows there would be no shrinking, no draw- 



2l8 A WANDERING STAR. 

ing back on her part, If Heaven's fair light 
streamed full on his face and if she saw him, 
the wreck he now Is, without concealment or 
wilful blindness. For he has forgotten how 
she loves him ; It must be that, for surely it 
would be too hard a trial for most women. 
Why, did not Lady Julia Damer almost 
force her way Into his room two days ago, 
and did he not see even her bold face blanch 
when she caught sight of him, and hear her 
stormy sobs as she turned away ? 

And this one Is but a child In comparison 
to Lady Julia, and she has had time lately to 
realize for herself, and to perceive, by the 
cold face the world turns to her, that he has 
tried to lead her astray, to lead her Indeed 
to her ruin ; but she forgives him, or rather 
she does not forgive him at all ; sJie loves 
him. 

He has not shed tears since he was a child, 
but they run down his marred and wasted 
cheeks now as his darling puts her face 
close to his and tells him all her love and 
pity. 

It Is wrong; It Is no doubt wicked; she 



A WANDERING STAR. 219 

should be at home now, repenting of her 
former sins In sackcloth and ashes, and doing 
her best to forget Beresford. This is all 
quite true, and she has but one excuse : it is 
for the last time, the last time, and their lips 
did not cling together with more love or 
passion when they kissed in the rose-garden 
on the nio^ht of the masked ball than now 
when love and hope are about over. 

He knows that they will not meet again ; 
that if he by a miracle lives, and in a measure 
recovers, that even then the past will never 
return. He Is done for, body, and perhaps 
mind, though he may still draw the breath 
of life and cumber the earth a few years 
longer. They hardly speak at all, unless 
broken words, terms of endearment, count 
for speech, but she clings to him as if she 
could never be parted again. 

There is a knock at the door at last, and 
Vega knows that the supreme moment' has 
come ; one more long, long kiss, like the 
kiss that is laid on the lips of the dying, and 
she goes out of the room where she has 
taken farewell, not only of Brian Beresford 



2 20 A WANDERING STAR. 

but of her own youth, and joy, and happi- 
ness. 

71^ ^ ^ ■JiJ ^ 

For a long tune after this Vega can hardly 
be said to be alive at all, at least if life means 
something more than mere existence. 

The blow that struck her was so sudden 
and violent that no wonder she was stunned 
by it. But she makes no outward display of 
grief ; and if she does not show a brave 
front to the world the unobservant (always 
the majority) see but little difference in her. 
She gets up — she goes to bed — she drives 
and walks at the appointed times. She is 
apparently blind and deaf to her husband's 
unsteady gait and his confused talk on the 
evenings when he exceeds, and in more 
sober moments she is ready to play bezique 
with him as long as he wishes, or even to 
make one in a dreary rubber of whist. 

Many of those who once feasted "at The 
Towers will not enter its portals now, for 
there is a strong party in Blankshire, headed 
by Lady Hautaine, and kept together by the 
sisters at Conholt, who are afraid that Vega 



A WANDERING STAR. 22 1 

mieht contaminate them or their belonor- 
ings ; but there are others who are not so 
merciless, or who, perhaps, are more loath 
to give up Mr. Mossop's banquets, and they 
find Vega, to all appearance, unchanged. 
No doubt she is lovely still — lovely as ever 
— for grief in early youth does not turn 
golden hair to grey, nor does it draw prema- 
turely on smooth skins the cruel lines it 
stamps on older faces. 

She was always sweet and gentle, and she 
is so still ; and it is only the one or two who 
know her well who know that her heart is 
really broken. 

Dottie's quick eye can read her like a 
book ; and she is well aware that when 
Vega lost Brian she lost everything that 
made life worth having ; while Miss Mos- 
sop's kind heart is wrung with grief as she 
watches her heroic efforts to do her duty, to 
please her husband, to redeem the past. 
Miss Charley has an almost maternal feeling 
towards the young girl ; and though her 
own life has been blameless, well regulated, 
and above suspicion, she can still, strange to 



22 2 A WANDERING STAR. 

say, show mercy to one who was ready to 
lose the world for love. 

Without these two trusty friends Vega 
would be indeed desolate ; but they stand by 
her manfully. Miss Mossop is unaffectedly 
indifferent to the opinion of the world — 
valuing it, most probably, exactly at its 
proper worth ; while to be in opposition to 
everybody and everything is as the breath 
of life to Dottie. The best side of her 
headstrong determined nature has always 
prompted her to fight for the oppressed, or 
to stand by those who are down. Were 
Vega joyous, happy, and fortunate, the sight 
would fill her with envy and resentment ; 
but Vega, slighted and neglected, turns her 
into an eager partisan at once, while she 
never forgets her promise to Brian to be a 
good friend to the girl he loved so dearly. 

She spends much of her time at The 
Towers, though it is Lady Hermione's way 
to lament loudly her daughter's obstinacy 
and wrong-headedness, and to assert that 
Dottie is acting in direct defiance to her 
wishes by visiting there at all — the real 



A WANDERING STAR. 2 23 

truth being that she Is thankful to be 
rid of her on such easy terms, and would 
be heartily glad If she stayed there for 
ever. 

Pussle Is such a perfect cipher, and can be 
disposed of so easily, that once Dottle is off 
her hands her ladyship is comparatively 
free, and, at any rate, is able to spend all the 
little money she . possesses religiously on 
herself. 

The ties of blood do not bind her 
strongly, and since the time when Dottle 
changed from a picturesque, black-eyed child 
to a beetle-browed, coarse-complexioned, 
clumsy-looking girl, she has never given her 
mother a moment of such real, unalloyed 
pleasure as she experiences when she 
receives a letter from her second daughter, 
dated from The Towers, and informing her 
In curt and perfectly independent language 
that she is engaged to, and means shor-tly 
to marry, a cousin of Mr. Mossop's, whose 
connection with beer Is not by any means 
in the past tense, like his, but who, being 
one of the managers of the prosperous 



2 24 A WANDERING STAR. 

brewery of Mossop & Co., Is In a position 
to offer Dottle a comfortable home, which 
she has promptly accepted. Lady Her- 
mlone wrings her hands in public and 
laments Dottle s '' low marriage " loudly, 
being at the same time hardly able to con- 
ceal her joy, especially as the attitude she 
assumes towards her daughter Is so Insulting 
that Mr. Mossop consents to the marriage 
taking place from The Towers, while one of 
the few gleams of pleasure that reaches 
Vega In these latter days Is that she is 
allowed to give the future bride her trous- 
seau, and to see her satisfaction and delight 
over her new possessions. 

And Brian Beresford — what of him ? 
How has Fortune treated one on whose 
head she had once showered all good 
things ? Her wheel turns quickly Indeed ; 
and the evil days that will soon be on us all 
have come on him with curious swiftness. 

He lost everything at once ; for It was 
Indeed a sudden blow that took from him 
everything that makes life worth having at 
all. He was one moment strong and bold 



A WANDERING STAR. 225 

and bright and handsome — he is a wreck 
the next, for his health is gone, and his 
mind is at times sadly clouded ; while the 
good looks, that once were a passport to the 
hearts of men as well as of women, so 
delightful were they, are now replaced by 
misshapen features, from which even friendly 
eyes are glad to turn away. His face is 
drawn by pain and suffering — Time's kindly 
fingers can hardly obliterate the unseemly 
gash stamped on it by an iron hoof — and 
even the eyes are not quite Brian's eyes, so 
strained and altered is their expression. 
He is now moody, sad, silent, almost sullen 
— he who once was so frank and genial. 
He has suffered frightfully — been tortured 
by clever doctors and skilful surgeons, and 
been pieced together and patched up by 
them as well as the job could possibly be 
done ; they have mended the case after a 
fashion, but they cannot get at the broken 
mainspring ! He seems filled with but one 
idea when all is done, and that is to get 
away from every one. He cannot get 
accustomed to pity — he shrinks from kindly 

VOL. III. Q 



2 26 A WANDERING STAR. 

as much as from curious looks — and a 
helping hand seems a sort of insult. 

The end comes to some before the breath 
actually leaves the body ; and before he dies 
Brian is gone. Before that comes to pass 
he has left country, friends, and all the joys 
of life behind him, for he has obtained his 
last wish at least ; and on an alien soil, and 
tended by stranger hands, does the man, 
once one of the most beloved of this earth's 
creatures, end his days. 

" By strange stars watched, he sleeps afar." 

When the news reaches Conholt Lady 
Julia's stormy grief is both violent and 
genuine ; for with Beresford died the only 
one of all her lovers for whom she had felt 
something approaching real love, and his 
place in her heart can never be filled again. 

She may still feel both joy and sorrow, of 
a certain sort, in days to come — 

" All the joys of the flesh, all the sorrows 
That wear out the soul," 

and many another emotion too — but not real 
love. That flickered and went out for ever 



A WANDERING STAR. 22^ 

when the one person who had called it into 
life was taken away from her. 

But Vega received what may be called 
her death-blow when she said good-bye to 
Brian ; and even this news — or, indeed, any 
news, good or bad, that can come to her in 
the future — has but little power to affect her, 
for fate has already done its worst. 

" For the dusty darkness shall slay desire, 
And the chaff shall burn with unquenchable fire ; 
But for green wild growth of thistle and briar, 
At least, there is no renewing." 



THE END, 



Woodfall & Kinder, Printers, 70 to 76, Long Acre, London, W.C. 



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